Sharing a seriously fun love for food

Month: June 2017

Chocolate Sauce

Chocolate Sauce

Everyone should have one great chocolate sauce recipe. This is mine. Its rich, dark velvety goodness will make tears well up in your eyes.

The first time I tasted this sauce was at the home of a dear family friend, Gail Waterfield. Gail is such a lovely woman, the epitome of Southern elegance and a fabulous cook. One evening while visiting my hometown of Canadian, she joined us for dinner. As any good Southerner knows, a special meal requires dessert, and she had made us quite a dessert. Gail presented us with a lovely angel food cake, freshly whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and this chocolate sauce.

A combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa gives this sauce a rich and decadent, deep chocolate flavor. I always double the recipe because someone usually wants seconds then asks to take a jar home! This recipe makes about three cups of sauce but it can be divided to make a smaller batch if you’d like… But not sure why you would!

Chocolate Sauce

½ cup butter

½ cup bittersweet chocolate, shaved

½ cup cocoa, whisk or sift to remove any lumps

1-1/2 cups sugar

1 cup cream

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Add the butter and bittersweet chocolate shavings to a saucepan; melt over low heat stirring until smooth and combined.

Add the cocoa, sugar, cream and kosher salt, stir together until well blended. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring frequently.

Raise heat to medium, and bring the chocolate sauce just to the boiling point. Continue stirring frequently so the chocolate doesn’t scorch. You don’t want to cook this sauce beyond this point or sugar crystals will form. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly, about 5-10 minutes.

Stir the vanilla extract into the chocolate sauce. Keep covered and chilled until ready to use. This sauce will get quite thick when chilled. You can reheat it over a low heat in a small saucepan, or on a low setting in the microwave for just a minute or two, until warm.

Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, served in my Grandmother’s Fostoria crystal. Simple made elegant!

 

Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin

We’re beef people, grew up with beef people and for many, many years our family raised our own. It’s hard to beat a good beef tenderloin, but if you’ve never cooked one it can seem daunting. When you look at the price per pound there is a lot of pressure not to mess it up!

I typically roast a beef tenderloin at 350 degrees, seasoned with nothing but olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked black pepper, always with consistent results. Once I tried a recipe which required roasting the tenderloin at high heat of 500 degrees. Unfortunately one of our smoke alarms is located very close to the ovens. The minute the oven door was opened, heat and smoke rushed out, smoke alarm screeching in the background. All the while I assured my guests I knew this would happen, not to worry… “More wine?” I offered! (It’s an old trick. Never let your guests know something unexpected has occurred and never let them see you rattled.) The beef tenderloin was wonderful and no one really noticed the chaos in the background.

Not to be deterred, I was still open to try new methods to cook beef tenderloin. I’d had my eye on this recipe since I first purchased “Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof” cookbook. Slow Roasted Filet of Beef with Basil Parmesan Mayonnaise. I had guests coming for dinner, beef tenderloin in my refrigerator and a ton of fresh basil growing on my patio. Seemed like the perfect time to give this a shot.

I always start with a whole beef tenderloin, not one that has been trimmed. If you have guests who like their meat well done, don’t tie up the small end of the tenderloin. (Personally, I would never dream of eating a gorgeous beef tenderloin cooked well done. But everyone has shortcomings so we try to be tolerant, accepting and accommodating!) A whole tenderloin should serve 6-8 people and leave some leftover for an amazing roast beef sandwich or two!

The basic ingredients are the same that I normally use to cook beef tenderloin with the addition of tarragon. Tarragon adds a very subtle, bittersweet note to the meat. Serve the beef with Basil Mayonnaise with Parmesan cheese to provide an elegant touch to this dish. (The recipe for Basil Mayonnaise is also posted in our blog.)

Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Whole beef tenderloin, about 4-5 pounds

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon to brush over the tarragon

4 teaspoons kosher salt

2-3 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper, preferably with a mortar and pestle so that the pepper is quite coarse

Fresh tarragon, about 8-10 large sprigs

About an hour before cooking, remove the beef tenderloin from the refrigerator and place in a large roasting pan which has been lightly coated with a cooking spray. Using paper towels, pat the tenderloin dry. Spread the olive oil over the entire tenderloin using your hands or a pastry brush. Cover all sides of the tenderloin with the kosher salt and black pepper, pressing gently into the meat. Tuck the “tail” (the thinner end of the tenderloin) under so that the meat is more uniform in size, allowing the meat to cook more evenly. Lay the springs of tarragon across the top of the tenderloin. Using cooking twine, tie the tenderloin in about 4-5 places, securing tarragon as you go. Brush the top of the tarragon sprigs with remaining olive oil.

Let the meat stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes, but no more than an hour. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Before placing the meat in the oven, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the tenderloin. Roast for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the thermometer reaches 135 degrees for medium rare.

Insert a meat thermometer horizontally into the thickest part of the meat.

Remove the tenderloin from the oven, cover with foil and let the meat rest about 20 minutes before carving. (Don’t skip the rest time… This allows the beef juices to settle back into the meat and keeps the meat moist.)

Carve into preferred thickness and serve with the basil mayonnaise or a creamy horseradish sauce if desired.

Basil Mayonnaise with Parmesan Cheese

Basil Mayonnaise with Parmesan Cheese

Raised with Grandparents who always had a bountiful garden, at a minimum I keep a variety of herbs on my patio. There is a simple luxury in walking out back and gathering fresh mint, rosemary, parsley or basil. The fragrance of fresh herbs is intoxicating and the beauty in both their color and flavor is unmatched by dried herbs.

Basil is a staple in my kitchen, during warmer months an herb I grow in containers. In cooler seasons basil is most always available in the food markets and various year-round farmer’s markets in our area. Basil is an incredibly versatile herb. Fresh it imparts a slightly peppery flavor but when cooked it has a sweeter essence, which is why it is commonly paired with tomatoes.

This recipe is a new favorite, mayonnaise made with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. It’s another wonderful recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook. If you have a blender or food processor making mayonnaise is quick and easy. I’ve changed the ratio of olive oil to vegetable oil in the recipe, I tend to like the richer tone olive oil brings. I also add a bit of sugar to cut the acidity.

Lemons, Parmesan cheese, eggs, olive oil and fresh basil… Kitchen staples blended together to create this flavorful and creamy mayonnaise.

The versatility of this mayonnaise is quite broad. It can be used as a spread with sandwiches, as a dressing for salad, a beautiful dip for crudités on a cheese board or as a sauce, an accompaniment for roast beef or beef tenderloin.

Grab your scissors, head to the garden and gather your fresh basil!

Basil Mayonnaise with Parmesan Cheese

2 extra large egg yolks

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed when measuring

½ teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¾ cup vegetable oil

In a food processor or blender, add the egg yolks, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, mustard, basil, garlic, sugar, kosher salt and pepper.

Process the ingredients for about 15-20 seconds, until the mixture is smooth.

Through the lid and with the machine running, pour both the olive oil and the vegetable oil into the mixture, blend for about 10 seconds. The mayonnaise will thicken into a creamy sauce.

Check for seasonings, adding more kosher salt or pepper to suit your taste. Cover and chill until you’re ready to use it. The mayonnaise will keep about 2 weeks stored in your refrigerator.

Use as a spread on a roast beef sandwich, adding an unexpected and fresh flavor.
Figs with Goat Cheese, Basil and Fruit Preserves

Figs with Goat Cheese, Basil and Fruit Preserves

I love figs. Most people’s exposure to figs comes from that “Newton” cookie and not from the sweet, succulent fruit harvested fresh from the tree. I must admit for years I fell into this category. It was not until we had an in-home Nanny of sorts, Hazel who helped care for Emily when she was little. Hazel had an enormous fig tree in her yard and she gladly shared its bounty.

Some years ago, Emily and I were making our way through a Farmer’s Market in Atlanta and ran across a farmer selling fresh Black Mission figs. But it’s how they were sampling these figs that took this beautiful fruit to an incredible place. Figs paired with goat cheese, basil and preserves. I don’t know who thought of it but it is genius!

Figs prepared this way make an elegant and delectable appetizer or a unique side for brunch or dinner. Black Mission figs are a favorite but other varieties are equally delicious. Fresh figs can be found in markets beginning in mid-late May and available through late November into December. Select figs that are somewhat soft; if they are hard they’re not ripe and won’t be sweet. Buy them fresh, only a day or two before you plan to use them as they continue to ripen and can spoil quickly. The portions listed will make 12 large appetizers or 24 small. Adjust to fit your needs.

Figs with Goat Cheese, Basil and Fruit Preserves

12 fresh Black Mission figs

12 fresh large basil leaves, rinsed and dried (24 leaves if you’re cutting the figs in half for smaller servings)

1 small package (4 ounces) honey goat cheese, softened slightly at room temperature (If honey goat cheese is not available, plain goat cheese will also work.)

Mixed fruit preserves, or your favorite berry preserve

Rinse the figs and pat dry. With a sharp knife, slice through the fig, about ¾ of the way leaving the base of the fig intact. (You can leave the stem or trim, whichever you prefer.)

Take a basil leaf and gently place about ½-1 teaspoon of the goat cheese in the middle of each leaf.

Gently tuck the goat cheese filled leaf into the middle of the figs.

Place the figs on a serving tray and top with about one teaspoon of the preserves. If you want a smaller serving, you can cut the figs into halves, lay a basil leaf with the goat cheese on top, and finish with a dollop of the preserves.

These can be made 2-4 hours in advance, just keep covered and chilled until ready to serve. You can refrigerate any figs you have leftover, the basil leaves will wilt slightly but the taste is still divine!

Pair with red grapes for a stunning presentation.
Roast Beef Sandwich Pockets

Roast Beef Sandwich Pockets

Long, warm days often dictate a less complicated meal. Sandwiches have always been well received at my house, but no bologna and cheese found here. I’ve never been one for the ordinary. Just ask Emily about her early days and the school lunches I packed! So this too, is no ordinary sandwich.

Roast beef sandwiches are typically “heavy” in nature. This version brings together an unusual mix of vegetables, lightly dressed, tucked into fluffy pita bread with savory roast beef along with a creamy, buttery Havarti cheese.

If you are lucky enough to have leftover tenderloin, by all means use it. If not, head to the deli. Boar’s Head® makes a beautiful London Port, which is a seasoned top round enhanced with port wine.

I made many of these tasty sandwich pockets when I was catering with my dear friend Jane Edmunds. This was a creation she had in her collection and one our clients always loved. The sandwich pockets can be made a few hours in advance, making them great for a picnic or a casual lunch gathering. The ingredients listed will make four sandwich pockets. A half is quite filling so you can adjust the portions to fit the number of servings you need. Serve along with a cup of our French Onion Soup or Corn Chowder and you’ve got a fabulous meal!

Roast Beef Sandwich Pockets

4 whole pita pockets, cut in half

1 pound roast beef, sliced thin

½ pound Havarti cheese, sliced thin

1 small carton (8 ounces) mascarpone or soft cream cheese, softened slightly

2 cups mixed greens

5 radishes, sliced thin

½ cucumber, sliced thin

1 to 2 tomatoes, sliced thin

8 green olive with pimentos, sliced thin

Champagne Vinaigrette or Italian Dressing

Gently open up each pita pocket half and spread the softened mascarpone or cream cheese inside, covering both sides taking care not to tear the bread.

Using about 2-4 slices of roast beef, tuck into the pocket followed by a slice or two of the Havarti cheese.

In a medium bowl, add the mixed greens, radishes, cucumbers, tomato and olives. Add enough dressing to coat evenly then toss thoroughly to combine.

Take a small handful of salad mix and tuck into the pocket alongside the roast beef and cheese. If you’re making these in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Makes 8 sandwiches.

Roast Beef Pita Sandwiches, courtesy of Preserving Good Stock

June 21, 2017
: Makes 8 pita sandwiches.

Roast beef sandwiches are typically “heavy” in nature. This version brings together an unusual mix of vegetables tucked into fluffy pita bread with savory roast beef and a nutty Havarti cheese.

By:

Ingredients
  • 4 whole pita pockets, cut in half
  • 1 pound roast beef, sliced thin
  • ½ pound Havarti cheese, sliced thin
  • 1 carton mascarpone or soft cream cheese, 8-ounces, softened slightly
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 5 radishes, sliced thin
  • ½ cucumber, sliced thin
  • 1 to 2 tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 8 green olives with pimentos, sliced thin
  • Champagne Vinaigrette or Italian Dressing
Directions
  • Step 1 Gently open up each pita pocket half and spread the softened mascarpone or cream cheese inside, both sides.
  • Step 2 Using about 2-4 slices of roast beef, tuck into the pocket followed by a slice or two of the Havarti cheese.
  • Step 3 In a medium bowl, add the mixed greens, radishes, cucumbers, tomato and olives. Add enough dressing to coat evenly then toss thoroughly to combine.
  • Step 4 Take a small handful of salad mix and tuck into the pocket alongside the roast beef and cheese. If you’re making these in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Apricot and Toasted Pecan Scones

Apricot and Toasted Pecan Scones

I love scones. Much like a biscuit in texture, with fruits and nuts tucked into the dough, bits of butter blended and waiting to melt, brushed with cream and dusted with sugar. What’s not to love?

These are not the dry, tasteless scones you find at the “coffee shop on every block” scone. These are light and flavorful, loaded with bits of fruit and toasted nuts. The process of making scones is similar to making biscuits. Flour, baking powder, kosher salt with a little sugar cut with chunks of butter, held together with cream and eggs. The crumb of a baked scone should be delicate and tender, so you want your butter very cold and the dough gently mixed.

Any dried fruit can be used. Apricots are a family favorite and dried cranberries are perfect during the holidays. Add jam for a wonderful brunch or serve in your bread basket at lunch or dinner for an unexpected treat.

If you’ve never had a fresh baked scone, you’re in for a treat!

Apricot and Toasted Pecan Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus one tablespoon to dust the fruit and nuts

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), very cold and cut into small pieces

2 extra large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

¾ cup dried apricots, diced into small pieces

¾ cup toasted pecans, chopped

2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

For your egg wash you’ll need:

2 tablespoons cream or half-n-half

1 extra large egg

Add the 2 cups of flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until combined. Toss the pieces of butter into the flour mixture.

Cut the butter into small cubes before adding to the flour mixture.

On low speed, blend until the butter has started to combine with the flour and is in small pieces.

Blend into the flour until the bits of butter are about the size of a pea. You still want to see small chunks of butter in the flour.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream, then on low speed add to the flour-butter mixture, blending until the dough has just come together. The dough will be somewhat sticky, but do not over mix!

Toss the diced apricots and the chopped pecans together with the remaining one tablespoon of flour. This will prevent the fruit from sticking together and allow the fruit and nuts to mix more evenly into the dough.

Add the apricots and the pecans to the dough, mixing on low until they are mixed in, about 15-20 seconds.

On a large floured surface, turn out the dough and divide into two pieces.

Dust your rolling pin with flour and roll each half of the dough into a round, about ¾” – 1” thick. You can also “pat” into a round with your hands.

Using a sharp knife, cut each round into six sections. You will need to dust the knife with flour between cuts to prevent sticking.

Place each scone on a large baking sheet, lined with either parchment paper or a Silpat liner. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons of cream or half-n-half with the egg, then lightly brush the egg wash over the top of each scone. Sprinkle the tops of each scone with the turbinado sugar. (You can also use granulated sugar.)

Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until golden in color. Be careful not to over bake or your scones will be dry.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apricot and Toasted Pecan Scones with apricot jam and a hot latte!

Apricot and Toasted Pecan Scones, courtesy of Preserving Good Stock

June 19, 2017
: Makes 12 large scones.

Light and flavorful, loaded with bits of apricots and toasted pecans. If you’ve never had a fresh baked scone, you’re in for a treat!

By:

Ingredients
  • For the scones:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus one tablespoon to dust the fruit and nuts
  • 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup dried apricots, diced into small pieces
  • ¾ cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar - raw sugar
  • For the egg wash:
  • 2 tablespoons cream or half-n-half
  • 1 extra large egg
Directions
  • Step 1 Add the 2 cups of flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until combined.
  • Step 2 Toss the pieces of butter into the flour mixture. On low speed, blend until the butter has started to combine with the flour and is in small pieces.
  • Step 3 Whisk together the eggs and cream until well combined then add to the flour mixture. Using low speed, mix until the cream and eggs are mixed in and the dough has just come together. The dough will be somewhat sticky but do not over mix!
  • Step 4 On a large floured surface, turn out the dough and divide into two pieces. Dust your hands with flour and gently “pat” the dough into a round, about ¾” – 1” thick. Using a sharp knife, cut into six sections. You will need dust the knife with flour between cuts to prevent sticking. Repeat with the second piece of dough. You can also divide the dough into fourths and cut into smaller scones.
  • Step 5 Place each section on a large baking sheet, lined with either parchment paper or a Silpat liner. Whisk together the cream or half-n-half with the egg and lightly brush each scone with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the tops of each scone with the turbinado sugar. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until golden in color.
  • Step 6 Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Summer Tortilla Soup

Summer Tortilla Soup

Who doesn’t love tortilla soup? With infinite combinations of veggies and spices to include, it’s impossible to pass up trying a new version. One of my favorites was published in a previous post, but this recipe for Tortilla Soup caught my eye and I pushed my skepticism aside and gave it a try.

Backtracking a bit, the engineer in my life gave me a Vitamix® last year. Emily has one and when he saw it, he got caught up in the “mechanics” of the machine. He doesn’t cook, but he loves equipment, which works out well for me!

The base for this soup is chicken stock and vegetables, not a lick of cream though you would swear it is cream based. The soup develops a deep, rich flavor and velvety texture. I add shredded chicken, roasted corn and black beans to the base, then top with broken tortilla chips and a swirl of sour cream.

When I make soup in my Vitamix, I typically make multiple batches. Once you have the vegetables prepped, the soup comes together quickly. One batch will make enough for two, but you’ll definitely want leftovers. The quantity of ingredients listed will make five batches, enough to feed a group or provide you with multiple servings.

For the soup base you’ll need:

5 cups chicken stock

5 Roma tomatoes, cut in half

5 carrots, cut in half

5 stalks of celery, cut in half

1 large, sweet onion

5 cloves of garlic

1 large yellow summer squash

1 large red bell pepper

1 package slaw mix

5 mushrooms, portabella or button

2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2-1/2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste

2-1/2 teaspoons cumin

For each batch:

1 cup chicken stock

1 Roma tomato, cut in half

1 carrot, cut in half

1 stalk of celery, cut in half

1 slice sweet onion

1 clove of garlic

1 slice of yellow summer squash

1 slice of red bell pepper

1 handful of slaw mix

1 mushroom

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ chili powder, or to taste

½ teaspoon cumin

Add all of the ingredients to the Vitamix starting with chicken stock. Make certain the lid is on securely and process for at least three minutes before transferring to a stockpot. (You can use the “hot soup” feature on your Vitamix as well.) Repeat with remaining ingredients, transferring each batch to your stockpot to heat thoroughly.

To the soup base add:

1 can black beans, 15 ounces, rinsed and drained

2-1/2 cups roasted corn or 2 bags frozen corn, 10 ounces each

2 -3 cups cooked chicken, shredded

Add the black beans, the corn and the shredded chicken. Cook over medium until all ingredients are hot.

For serving, you’ll want:

Tortilla chips

Sour cream

To serve, ladle the soup into large bowls, top with a dollop of sour cream, break up a handful of tortilla chips and enjoy!

Caprese Salad, Insalata Caprese 

Caprese Salad, Insalata Caprese 

One of the best uses for fresh tomatoes has to be a Caprese Salad, also known as Insalata Caprese or Salad of Capri.

This Italian salad highlights three beautiful flavors – garden ripe tomatoes, peppery basil, and slices of milky mozzarella cheese.

These simple ingredients come together quickly and create a dish that can be served as a side salad, an appetizer or add a glass of robust Chianti, for a light yet elegant meal. The classic version of Caprese Salad is topped only with olive oil, salt and pepper. By adding a rich, aged sweet Balsamic vinegar the flavors take on another level.

Don’t skimp on the olive oil or the balsamic vinegar. For olive oil, I keep Olio Santo® and Williams-Sonoma® House Olive Oil on hand, both have a delicate, buttery flavor. One of my favorite balsamic vinegars, and always in my pantry is Guisti Dense®. It is rich and thick with a slightly sweet, fruity flavor and provides a perfect balance for this trio of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.

Traditionally Caprese Salad is served layered on a platter, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Use cherry tomatoes with Bocconcini or Ciliegine, small, bite-size mozzarella balls, placing them on skewers with basil leaves tucked in between each. One of my favorite presentations of a Caprese Salad – stacked in a tower, making an elegant presentation. Both methods are simple and wonderful!

Caprese Tower

Serves 4 – 6

4 large, ripe fresh tomatoes

2 rounds mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil leaves, about 30-40 leaves

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly crushed black pepper, to taste

Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella cheese into 1/4” slices. Starting with the tomatoes, sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper, top with 2-3 basil leaves, then add a slice of mozzarella. Repeat another layer, finishing by topping with a slice of tomato and basil.

Season each tomato slice with a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar before serving.

Caprese Skewers

Makes 8 – 10 skewers

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, or a mix of the two

1 large container Bocconcini or Ciliegine mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil leaves, about 40 leaves

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly crushed black pepper, to taste

6” – 8” wooden skewers

Starting with the tomatoes, place one on a skewer, topped by a basil leaf, then a mozzarella ball, another basil leaf, repeating until you have three tomatoes per skewer.

Place finished skewers on a platter or cheese board, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and if desired, balsamic vinegar.

 

Strawberry Preserves

Strawberry Preserves

The process of preserving fruits gathered from the summer harvest has been around for centuries. I learned how to make jam helping my Mother, my Grandmothers and a very dear Aunt Mary. My Dad’s Mother and my Aunt Mary would send my brother and I out on horseback, out to the ranch to gather plums from the thickets growing wild in the canyons. Their wild plum jam was legendary in the area. On my Mother’s side, my Grandmother grew apricot and peach trees, producing succulent fruit for spectacular jams and preserves.

There are hundreds of recipes for strawberry preserves and jams. I’ve tried dozens of them but always come back to this method. I found versions of this recipe in cookbooks belonging to my Grandmothers, both dating back to the 1930s. This process varies from more traditional methods, which use added pectin.

With this recipe the strawberries are left whole and the preserves sit overnight to allow the berries to rest in the liquid. The result is a luscious strawberry nectar with whole strawberries as the centerpiece. The preserves are “softer” than those made with added pectin and can double as a dessert sauce. The addition of butter to the strawberries and sugar helps to minimize foam from building up in the preserves while cooking.

If you’re planning to can the preserves, you’ll want to start by washing the jars and lids in hot soapy water, then sterilizing them following the manufacturer’s directions. *

This recipe makes a small batch, about four 8-ounce jars, enough for you and maybe one for a friend!

Strawberry Preserves

2 pints of fresh strawberries, equal to 1-1/2 pounds

4 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon butter

¾ teaspoon red wine vinegar

Thoroughly wash the strawberries, hull and leave whole. Place the strawberries in a large kettle or stockpot, top with the sugar. Heat the berries and sugar over low heat, stirring gently after the sugar has begun to melt, being careful not to break up the berries.

Cook over low heat, waiting until after the sugar has started to dissolve before stirring.

When the sugar has completely dissolved, add the butter and raise the heat to medium. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for three minutes. Add the red wine vinegar and return to a full boil for eight minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the preserves from the heat and skim any foam that might have formed. Stir the preserves occasionally and when slightly cooled, pour in a heatproof dish. (I use a large Pyrex® measuring cup.) Stir periodically, until completely cool, cover and let set at least 12 hours.

The strawberries will absorb some of the liquid, plumping up a bit. Transfer to canning jars or refrigerate. The preserves will thicken slightly after chilled.

*If you’re canning the preserves in a water bath, follow the directions provided by the manufacturer of your jars. Ball® and Weck® both make wonderful canning jars and have step-by-step guidelines to canning safely posted on their websites.

If you get serious about making preserves, jams and canning, these are two great pieces to add to your kitchen arsenal. Kilner® makes the stainless steel kettle, and is a perfect design for making jams and preserves. The canner, made by Victorio® has a thermometer on top of the lid, making it easy to know when the water has reached the proper temperature for canning. I found both at Williams-Sonoma® and they have proved worth the investment!
French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

I was raised by a “farm and ranch” Mom who always had staples in the pantry and the fridge. I haven’t strayed far from that way of life. One year we were iced in for five days and never ran low on food!

This is one of those recipes I pull up when I’m working from home, haven’t found the time to run to the market and want to get a comforting meal on the table for dinner. I keep baguettes in the freezer, cheese is always in abundance in my fridge. Beef stock and onions, two staples always in my pantry, transform with a little time and patience into an amazing meal.

For the base you want to have a hearty, rich beef stock. I don’t always have time to cook a stock from scratch so I often use cartons of beef stock. I add some additional components to the stock (my Mom referred to this as “doctoring it up”!) then let the stock simmer, to reduce and intensify those flavors. The onions need time to cook down and caramelize, removing the somewhat pungent flavor, bringing out their sweetness. A quick note, if you don’t have shallots on hand, it’s not a problem. Just proceed with the onions.

And since you’ve got to add a little wine to the soup, pour yourself a glass and enjoy the process!

For the stock base:

4 cartons beef stock, 32 ounces each

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons concentrated beef bouillon

Combine all the ingredients in a large Dutch oven or stockpot; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue cooking over medium low heat for about 2-3 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify.

Slow, long simmering allows the beef stock to reduce, intensifying the flavors. It’s worth the time!

For the onion base:

3 pounds sweet yellow onions, sliced thin, about 1/8″ thick

2 large shallots, sliced thin, about 1/8″ thick

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

4 tablespoons flour

¾ cup white wine, such as a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil; when the butter has melted add the onions.

I use Texas 1015 or Vidalia onions and sometimes throw in a red onion.

Stir onions and shallots until coated in the butter and olive oil, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Add the brown sugar, molasses, kosher salt and pepper, blending well into the onions. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook uncovered for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Onions will turn golden as they release their natural sugars and caramelize.

Add the flour and quickly stir into the onions. Cook for about five minutes, stirring to prevent the flour from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Slowly add about two cups of the beef stock to the onions. Add the remaining beef broth stirring well; simmer over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes.

Stir in the white wine, cook for an additional 20 minutes.

To serve you’ll want:

Baguettes, thinly sliced and lightly toasted

Havarti or Gruyère cheese, grated

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with bread and grated cheese.

If you want to melt the cheese under the broiler, make certain you use oven safe bowls. Place the soup bowls on a baking sheet under a broiler for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.