Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Berry Jam

Summer berry jam, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

I bought a variety of summer berries at the farmers' market for a dessert I planned to make on Sunday. But, it was reeeeeally hot in St. Louis this weekend and we ended up going for ice cream instead. So, what to do with 2 qts. of beautiful berries?? Make like a rock band and jam!

Jams, jellies, and preserves are the country way of, well, preserving sweet, ripe fruit at their peak. Macerating and cooking fruit releases pectin, a naturally occurring thickener found in fruits' cell walls, which magically "sets up" the sweet fruit syrup and turns it into a spreadable mixture. You'll find recipes that include a commercial pectin like SURE-JELL, but I prefer to make this without. There's enough pectin in the fruits to make a semi-solid spread, which is the consistency you're going for - the gloppier the better.

I put a 'politan twist on this country staple by adding balsamic vinegar and fresh ground pepper, two oddballs that partner exceptionally well with strawberries. They add a tart and tangy kick that keeps the jam from becoming overly sweet, and makes for an interesting flavor combination. Enjoy!

1 qt strawberries, sliced in half
2 pints of other berries
--At this writing I used 1 pint blackberries and 1 pint blueberries because they were the freshest and ripest.
Juice of 2 lemons
4 T balsamic vinegar
2 t fresh ground black pepper
4 cups sugar

Prepare six 8oz. canning jars and put a small plate in the freezer (go with me on this).

In a large, non-reactive pot, add the berries and cook over medium-high heat 7-10 minutes, lightly mashing the berries to release their juices. Stir frequently to ensure the fruit on the bottom doesn't burn. Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar & pepper, then the sugar. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently and skimming the foam from the top of the cooking mixture.

To test how well your jam is jelling, take the plate out of the freezer (see, there was a reason) and drizzle out a bit of the liquid. Wait 30 seconds or so and see if it's starting to set up by tilting the plate. If it runs it needs to cook a bit longer, if it holds its basic shape then it's ready! You want it to be a little runny but firm around the edges.

Spoon the hot jam into the prepared jars. Really, spooning is best - the thick chunks of fruit will make the jam splatter everywhere if you try to pour (again, trust me on this). Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean damp cloth, then seal and process for 10 minutes in boiling water.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cherry tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella salad

We're just now starting to get fresh, ripe homegrown tomatoes at our farmers' markets here in St. Louis. I live for this moment all year long as there is nothing more delicious and satisfying than sweet, sunny tomatoes. Tagert had a BBQ last night and I was on the hook for a veggie side so I pulled together this salad, variations of which I've made for years.

NOTE: I used a packaged mozzarella in tiny 1g balls called 'perlini'. If you can't find those, slices of fresh mozzarella will work just as well.

2 pints cherry tomatoes (I made this with one pint of yellow & one pint of orange for color)
2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
1 8oz. container of mozzarella perlini

1/2 cup olive oil
3 T white wine vinegar
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 T chopped fresh parsley

Combine tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella in a medium bowl. In another both, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt & pepper until blended. Whisk in chopped herbs. Pour dressing over tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella and stir gently with a large spoon, making sure the dressing is evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate, or serve at room temperature.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Salsiccia, goat cheese, and 'Mostarda di Beddu' on Crostini

One of the best outcomes of a weekend full of cooking (just take a look at my & Tagert's recent posts!) is good leftovers to take to work. I was able to pull this delicious & simple lunch together from pieces of meals I'd prepared over the weekend. The ingredients included:

I've become a fan of Mark Sanfilippo's artisan Italian salumi. The only current retail location for Salume Beddu, as his company is called, is the Tower Grove Farmers' Market and supplies are limited, so you have to get there early to get any of his hand-crafted meats. Alas, I arrived late this past Saturday and he & his wife were already sold out of everything except two spreads - 'Mostarda di Beddu' & 'Cannellini alla Toscana.' I went with the 'Mostarda' because it was a sweet, savory, & salty (my favorites!) spread featuring dried figs & other fruits, red chile, white wine, and mustard seed. I knew it would pair well with the goat cheese I had on hand, so into my lunch bag it went.

Mark may have been out of salsiccia but luckily Manzo's Importing was not. If you've never made the journey to Manzo's at Macklind & Devonshire in South St. Louis then you're missing out on one of the more interesting speciality shops St. Louis has to offer. I've known owner Pete Manzo for years, and have been a fan of the salsiccia he & his family produce for just as long. They do several different kinds of salsiccia, all good, but I'm a fan of their Traditional Salsiccia which has a wonderfully subtle fennel flavor. I had grilled some salsiccia for an appetizer that I took to a dinner on Sunday and luckily had some leftover. I threw those in the lunch bag, too.

I also had a chunk of Baetje Farms' Coeur de la Creme left from a few days back. I've blogged about this fantastic chevre-style goat cheese before, which I still have no qualms about declaring as one of the best cheeses I've ever had. One of my favorite aspects of their cheese is that it keeps really well - up to 2 weeks in the fridge...although I've never been able to keep it for more than a few days because I can't stop sampling!

I rounded out the "nibbly bits" lunch with some sundried tomatoes I had from Schnucks and some herbed crostini I'd made on Sunday with some 2-day-old baguette. Assembly was a snap - I spread the goat cheese on the crostini, layered on a sundried tomato & a slice or two of salsiccia, and topped it all off with a spoonful of the 'Mostarda.' The result was fantastic - crunchy, creamy, meaty, salty, tangy & sweet in every bite! Everyone should have leftovers this
tasty at work!!

Salsiccia, goat cheese, and Mostarda di Beddu on Crostini

cfreeland27 (at)

Grilled Cantaloupe

Grilled Cantaloupe, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

I had folks over for dinner on Friday and banged out a pretty good meal (if I do, ever so humbly, say so myself). I'll blog a bit later about the Chicken with Tarragon Vinegar Grilling Marinade I fixed, but for now I'll start where I finished - grilled cantaloupe for dessert.

I've grilled pineapple & peaches before, to raves, but had never tried a melon. It seems to be all the rage this summer, and I'm never one to let a bandwagon pass me by, so I hopped on. I tried grilled watermelon and grilled cantaloupe. In fact, I paired them on the plate with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Sounds fun, looked great, but to be honest the pairing was off. I did not care for the texture or flavor of the grilled watermelon; to me the smokiness of the grill just turned the normally bright, crisp watermelon into a warm mush.

However, the silver lining here is that the grilled cantaloupe was fantastic! Cantaloupe has a meatier flesh than a watermelon, so I guess it should have been no surprise that it held up well to grilling.

This one is really easy - I just slapped 1/2" slices of cantaloupe across a hot grill, 2-3 minutes each side, until grill marks started to form. I served it drizzled with local wildflower honey and some chopped mint from our herb garden, and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. From slicing to plating this dessert took less than 15 minutes to prepare and was a fun way to play with a summertime favorite.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Originally uploaded by TagDragon

Crackers and are great for cheese plates and spreads. But, sometimes you want something different, a little special, something you made yourself. These crostini fit the bill. I make them fairly often. They are easy and people love them.

1 loaf French Bread or Baguette
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the French bread or Baguette into ½ inch slices on the diagonal. Arrange on a baking sheet. Brush the top of each slice with olive oil. Liberally sprinkle with salt and ground pepper. Bake 10 to 20 minutes until lightly browned and crisp.

Serve at room temperature. Makes between 25 – 40 pieces

There is no need to brush olive oil on both sides of the bread or flip the slices during baking. A loaf of French bread is larger then a baguette cut it slightly on the diagonal too much and the slices may be larger then you need. This makes nice firm crostini that are very good for serving with dips and spreads. Crostini made with the baguette will be even more firm that hold up to dense and hard to spread cheeses.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cherry Clafouti

Cherry Clafouti
Originally uploaded by TagDragon

Clafouti is a traditional French dessert made with cherries. But, it’s a little difficult to find a cherry version. Everyone does some other type of fruit. So, I made this cherry version. Clafouti is not a dessert I had growing up. It was the odd name that drew my attention to it. Now, I like the rusticness and comfort of it. It is something I could see having on the farm if we ate rustic French peasant desserts.

1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/3 cup Sugar
3 extra-large eggs – room temperature
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose Flour
1 ½ cups Heavy Cream
2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon grated Lemon zest
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Cognac
2 cups pitted Cherries
Confectioners’ Sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 10 x 1 ½ - inch round baking dish or equivalent size oval baking dish, sprinkle dish with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar.

Beat eggs and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in bowl of an electric mixed with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On low speed mix in the flour, heavy cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt and cognac. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Pit 2 cups of cherries. Evenly place cherries in baking dish. Pour batter over cherries and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Servers 8

The 10 minutes while the batter sits is a good time to pit the cherries. You have the time. You can either pit cherries or do a little kitchen cleaning? Your Choice. Also, cherries can be very messing in the pitting process.
Do not over cook. It should be somewhere between custard and a very moist cake a little closer to custard. Over cook and it will be the wrong texture, closer to rubber.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Champagne Cocktail Gift Basket

It was my friend Chuck’s birthday and I needed a gift. Chuck is hard to buy for. I know everyone is hard to buy for. But, Chuck has two interests: theater and opera. He has tickets to everywhere and owns every recording know to man. Chuck does like champagne and a champagne cocktail occasionally. So, I assembled this Champagne Cocktail Gift Basket. Regardless if the person makes the champagne cocktails at home, it is still a nice gift with the bottle of champagne, flutes, and zester. How much does a box of sugar cubes cost and bitters is always good to have on hand. Well, at least in my house.
Both, the items in the gift basket and cocktail recipe follow.

1 Basket with assorted tissue paper and ribbons
1 bottle Champagne/Sparking Wine
1 bottle Angostura Bitters
1 box Sugar Cubes
Several Lemons
2 Champagne Flutes
Citrus Zester
Assorted basket stuffers such as chocolates, fruits, candy, whole nuts, etc

Decoratively arrange items in basket. Present.

Makes 1 Champagne Cocktail Gift Basket

1 Sugar Cube
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Champagne/Sparkling Wine – chilled
Lemon Twist

Place the sugar cube in a champagne flute; to the sugar cube add a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. Slowly add champagne/sparkling wine to the flute. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Makes 1 Champagne Cocktail

Some recipes call for adding brandy on top of the champagne.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Caprese Salad Kabobs

Caprese Salad Kabobs, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

This bite-sized appetizer perfectly captures the wonderful flavors of a Caprese salad. It's simple, summery, & delicious - enjoy!

Update 11/23/2008: Food & Wine just published a recipe for "Margherita Skewers" using marinated bocconcini. Mmmm hmmm....I've been making these for years...

Small tomato (cherry-sized or smaller; grape work best)
Basil leaf
Marinated Mozzarella Bocconcini, or a chunk of fresh mozzarella
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

NOTE: I didn't give out quantities for the ingredients because this is such a simple recipe. Determine how many pieces you want to serve (allow up to 4 per person - really!) and that's how many tomatoes, bocconcini, basil leaves, and toothpicks you'll need.

Using a toothpick, spear the mozzarella, then one end of the basil leaf, then the tomato. Wrap the basil leaf around the tomato and spear the other end of the leaf. Arrange on a serving plate - I find that the shape lends itself well to overlapping circles, pictured above. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Marinated Mozzarella Bocconcini

According to, bocconcini means "mouthful" in Italian. These bite-sized morsels of fresh mozzarella are delicious and their diminutive size makes them perfect for appetizers. I buy the plain ones packed in whey and marinate them myself with whatever fresh herbs I have on hand. They can be used in so many ways - thrown in a pasta salad, eaten plain, or used in an appetizer, like in a Caprese Salad Kabob.

If you can't find bocconcini, cut down a round of fresh mozzarella into small chunks. It's the flavors that are most important here, not the shape of the cheese!

16oz bocconcini
4 T chopped fresh herbs, including:
-Italian parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 t red pepper flakes

Drain whey from bocconcini. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop, stirring occasionally.