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?

Honey, I’m hooOoome!

Posted by    |  January 12, 2011  |  Filed under: Food Foibles, Foodlife, Home, Organization

A successful move is a lot like a successful birth: everyone’s delighted to simply report the healthy existence of all the participants at the end. No one expects that its not gonna be painful.

We are loving Larchmont. The kids are happy and have been embraced by their new schools. The house is really comfortable. We have fantastic neighbors. It is all just so good.

…but it hurts like hell. Even today. Read more

Eating for You: Guidelines for a great foodlife during the first months with a new addition to your family

Posted by    |  July 8, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Organization




When grandma comes in for a new baby’s birth, she gets carte blanche to frost cakes with store-bought frosting.


okay Jill! time to call in the experts…you! HOW DO I HANDLE TWO CHILDREN AND COOK SUPPER…HELP!

This message was posted on my Facebook wall a few weeks ago by my friend Holly, who lives in South Carolina. She just had her second baby. So I’m donning my super-hero spandex body-suit and I’m here to help! Read more

Meal Planning for the Organizationally Challenged

Posted by    |  April 14, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Organization

Somehow you’ve failed to launch.  You know the difference between a boil and a simmer.  Your home is a fruit-leather-free zone.  You’ve got a freezer filled with high-quality meat and shelves of cookbooks. But there will be no dishes to do tonight.  Dinner will be prepared in someone else’s kitchen and conveyed in Styrofoam.  You’ll endure that same old internal dialog again. Read more

Cook like it’s a Rental

Posted by    |  April 12, 2010  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home, Organization

Hmmmm.  Six rubber scrapers and two meat thermometers.  No vegetable peeler.  No blender.  The tiniest box grater.  Whatever.  Let’s make it work.

Before I had kids- which was before I even really knew how to cook- I figured out that cooking for myself when I travelled was the key to a great vacation.  It’s fun to play with the local ingredients.  You meet all kinds of interesting folks at the beachside grill when you’re all standing around with cutting boards full of meat in one hand and beers in the other waiting your turn.  You can eat and drink what you want when you want for a fraction of the cost of dining out.  And frankly, you don’t spend a week getting bloated and constipated. Read more

My Frozen Treasure Chest

Posted by    |  January 27, 2010  |  Filed under: Organization

Colleen, this one’s for you–albeit probably a little late.

The farmer’s market is a community for me not unlike church or a PTA–or for my mom, the sales staff at Nordstrom’s.  I love Monday mornings during the season not just because finding heirloom potatoes is as thrilling as finding Jimmy Choo shoes on discount but also because I get a chance to connect with people I like there and talk about stuff I love.  It is a delight for me on every level. Read more