Keeping Summer’s Berry Romance Alive

Posted by    |  June 21, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients, Organization, Technique

Berries are like summer camp romances. They arrive suddenly. They’re sweet and pure with a wholesome allure that everyone understands. They bring back warm memories of fireflies and campfires and barefoot walks in the grass…

Just like summer romances, when the season is over, they’re gone.

For the past few years, my chest freezer has helped me keep the romance alive. I’ve carefully washed the berries in a solution of white vinegar and water (to kill mold spores), air-dried them, hulled them, and laid them out on rimmed cookie sheets to freeze. I’d then scoop the frozen berries into freezer bags for later use. It has been time consuming but totally worth it to have summery tasting berries in the middle of winter.

Once frozen, tender berries are really never good whole again. Even under the best freezing conditions, the jagged, microscopic crystals that form during the freezing process turn a firm, luscious berry into little more than a soggy mush-blob. In their whole, still-frozen state, they’re a nice addition to yogurt and I’ve added them to ice creams, but that’s about it.

Almost every time I make a withdrawal of berries from my freezer, they’re destined for the blender. So why bother freezing them whole? Why not freeze a puree? It turns out that the puree saves freezer space, offers versatility and allows me the convenience of dispensing with unpalatable seeds in raspberries and blackberries.

Frozen berry puree is a brilliant resource. It offers an effortless punch of fruity flavor and color at my fingertips. What do I make with it?
• Strawberry banana smoothies, peach blackberry smoothies and raspberry ricotta smoothies
• Raspberry lemonade
• Blackberry maple syrup
• Blackberry applesauce
• Raspberry mojitos and margaritas
• Frozen strawberry lemonade
• Coulis for finishing desserts
• Popsicles

You might notice the conspicuous absence of blueberries in the above list. Blueberries are perfectly suitable for pureeing but they get different treatment from me. Because of their thicker skins, blueberries freeze easily without first laying them out on a baking sheets. They also have more non-puree uses. Even frozen, blueberries are great in muffins, pancakes, or added to oatmeal. The same is not true of the berries in the above list.

Freezing fruit purees is as simple as this:
1. Wash and prepare your berries, hulling strawberries and picking through for leaves and stems.
2. Toss the berries in the blender and puree them thoroughly. This is one of those moments when my investment in a VitaMix blender really pays off. They are almost instantaneously pureed silky smooth in the Ferrari of blenders. Those of you driving more of a Volvo may need to stop the blender and stir up your puree to ensure that everything is thoroughly mashed to smithereens.
3. If you’re working with strawberries, you could just pour the puree straight into ice cube trays to freeze. The seeds aren’t particularly bothersome.
4. If you’re working with raspberries or blackberries, you want to remove the seeds. Simply pour the puree into a fine mesh sieve. Using a rubber scraper, wipe the puree back and forth across the mesh to push the juices and pulp through. Keep working until all that’s left is a seedy paste. Then scrape the excess off the bottom of the sieve. If you’re working with a large batch, just dump the paste, briefly rinse out the sieve and start over. It really doesn’t actually take that long and it’s a brainless activity that can be performed whilst returning your mother-in-law’s long neglected phone call.

5. Freeze the puree in ice cube trays. You can actually fill the trays to the top because they don’t expand much. When they’re frozen, just pop the cubes of puree into labeled freezer bags.

Because of their sugar and fiber content, the cubes are easily sliced with a knife. If I’m making a raspberry mojito for myself, I’ll just cut a cube into quarters and plop one into the glass while I muddle the sugar and mint. It thaws in a moment.

Having had to consume or bestow my freezer stash on my friends last fall in preparation for our relocation, I simply used frozen berries from the grocery store to get me through the winter. I thawed them on the countertop and then proceeded. Pounce on a sale if you get the chance

On that note, be opportunistic. In the next two weeks, we’ll be seeing the peak of strawberry season. If the fields are full, the farmers have to sell their yield and prices will reflect that. Further, look for bargains on overripe or bruised fruit.

This technique works beautifully on stone fruits as well. In fact, a few weeks ago my supermarket had some pretty ratty looking, overripe white nectarines priced to sell. I bought a large bag of them, removed their flesh from the pits and pureed them- skins and all.

White nectarine daiquiri, anyone?

Ironically, Sophie asked me to make a summery baked good for a year-end party at school. We settled on lemon bars as the right choice. As I prepared the lemon bars, I was simultaneously working on the mixed-berry puree I was shooting for this post. An idea struck me. Why not swirl in a bit of berry puree?

Cold Turkey on Chicken Breasts

Posted by    |  June 8, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients


Could you and your family go for a whole month without consuming chicken breasts? Does the thought of that startle you, or even horrify you? Does it seem silly?

If such an idea doesn’t faze you, stop reading and go read something from my archive, like this or this. This post is irrelevant to you.

I just posed this question to the friend who inspired this challenge. I think she would have been more eager to go for a month without washing her hair. She tried to bargain with me. Why not just two weeks? I could hear her thoughts, “Gosh, I love Jill and I get what she’s trying to do but this is just going too far.” Read more

I drank the good stuff today.

Posted by    |  May 13, 2011  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home

I woke up this morning with a nerve pinching between my shoulder blades. Dammit.

Dunno how it happened. Might have done it lifting free-weights. Might have been the consequence of the heavy, awkward sleep that results from hitting the pillow after three margaritas, a half a glass of wine and a tequila shot. My neighbor threw a fantastic Margarita party on her porch last night with lots of other moms from my kids’ school. At least I didn’t wake up with a headache. Read more

Black Bean and Cheese Tamales

Posted by    |  May 5, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Recipes

Adapted from The Salpicon Cookbook, by Priscilla Satkoff with Vincent Satkoff

I just made these for the first time three days ago. I’d never even thought of making tamales before because I’d heard that they are difficult to make. However, a group of students wanted to make them for Cinco de Mayo and they didn’t care that I was teaching them how to make something I’d never made before. Go figure.

They were surprisingly easy. I also discovered that they are incredibly convenient. By the time I’d finished making them on Tuesday night, we’d already had dinner. So I tried one, declared it a success, and put them in the refrigerator. I’ve been putting these in the kids’ lunches all week. Fortunately, they have access to a microwave at school.

The black bean filling is simple and accessible to virtually all palettes. I can’t wait to play with more ingredients, however. I want them spicy and I want them with squash blossoms and cilantro and corn and… Read more

Empanadas de Picadillo Oaxaqueño

Posted by    |  May 5, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Recipes

Adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless

I’ll admit it.  When the class I’m teaching tonight asked me to make empanadas, I wasn’t even sure I’d ever eaten an empanada- much less made one.

These were surprisingly easy.  Better still, the filling is simple to make in large batches.  With some picadillo in the freezer, fresh, warm empanadas are easy to throw together as an appetizer or snack.

Empanadas are usually deep-fried but I prefer the lightness of the baked version.  You could always opt to deep fry if you’re feeling naughty. Read more

Black-eyed Peas with Collard Greens and Ham

Posted by    |  April 29, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Recipes

It happens to be fast, cheap and healthy, but that’s not why we love this dish.

I have an impulsive aversion to any recipe that is advertised as being “easy,” “cheap,” or “healthy.” Those are good things, but I often worry that the writer was more focused on easy or cheap than what I really care about- flavor. Back when I was learning to cook, the “quick and easy” staples of the supermarket checkout line magazines generally tasted “quick and easy.” And the “healthy”recipes? Let’s just say that applesauce will always be a dreadful substitute for fat.

This recipe is like that girl in high school who dressed in Salvation Army garb and looked fabulously chic. While she’s cheap (make your own judgement about whether or not she was easy) you can’t help but be fascinated by her. Read more

It’s always been about the parents, Jamie.

Posted by    |  April 15, 2011  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home

As I began my career teaching parents how to cook, I made a critical decision: my job was not to try to convince parents that junk food is bad for their kids. My job was to empower those who already care. As someone who wants to see major changes in the way Americans eat, this is the best use of my energies. Plenty of people already care. Too few know where to start.


I want to love what Jamie Oliver is doing on “Food Revolution.” I really do. We’re on the same team.

But I don’t.

I was only able to stomach about three episodes of his first season. I think I might make it through the whole series this time, thanks to the opposition Jamie got from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Jamie is wasting his energies on the unmotivated. This made me absolutely crazy in the first season. Why spend so much time on people who really don’t even have the merest interest in the importance of diet and health to quality of life? Taking a morbidly obese, processed food junkie and trying to get him to buy and cook a pasture-raised chicken is absurd. It’s like expecting my kindergartener to read Nietzsche. Read more

Go ahead. Don’t drink your milk.

Posted by    |  April 10, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Nutrition

A great friend of mine from Hinsdale called a few weeks ago.  She shared the buzz about who bought our old house.  We emptied our gripe-bags of winter illness war stories.  Then she changed the subject.

“…so I also have a food question for you. I was reading your post about hot- no, very warm- cocoa and it got me thinking.  You know, Sarah [her 6-year-old] won’t drink milk.  So I give her chocolate milk instead- “

“Oh lawdy no.”  I interrupted her.  It was rude.  I know.  But I also know Elena and I knew where this was going.  “I’m going to just set aside this whole excessive accommodation thing.  You know that makes me nuts.  Seriously Elena.  How do you imagine that this is having a net positive effect on her health?”

“Well, kids need to drink milk.  They need it for their bones, right?”


They absolutely do not need to drink milk. Read more

The Ricotta Liberation

Posted by    |  March 22, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients

What is ricotta? Define it for me.

Betcha use the word “lasagna.”

Poor ricotta. It has no independent identity. It’s like one of the middle children in a family of 10 kids.  Not that lasagna is lasagna without it, but no one ever really thinks about it. And, yeah, it goes into cannelloni and manicotti and baked ziti, but those are just sort of the poor country cousins of lasagna. Read more

1,000 of my Favorite Recipes

Posted by    |  March 10, 2011  |  Filed under: Home, Recipes

Oh dammit to hell! Why? Oh why does God take away the little things I love the most? First it was Gourmet magazine. I still get a pang of heartbreak every time I think about the irreplaceable Gourmet and the brilliant Ruth Reichl. Like a stubborn 3-year-old, I refuse to make Bon Appetit recipes when searching “I’m still a Gourmet girl, you bastards! You can’t just pass me off to Bon Appetit!” I want it back and still can’t believe it’s gone forever.

And now- late to the game, as usual- I just figured out that Mark Bittman’s New York Times column, The Minimalist is gone. I was searching for “pesto” in the Times this week when, predictably, Mark’s column popped up. Pesto happened to be mentioned in a retrospective for his farewell column of January 25, a period when I was still being pummeled by the fallout from the relo. I gasped audibly as I read, “TODAY marks the exit of The Minimalist from the pages of the Dining section, as a weekly column at least.” Alarmed at my exclamation, the kids all rushed to peer over my shoulder at my laptop screen, expecting to read an email that someone had died or see a disturbing photograph. Read more

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