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?

Sweat the Small Stuff

Posted by    |  September 28, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few recipes that call for the cook to “sweat” the aromatics. I don’t mean perspiring over a hot pan into your food.

“Sweating” is a technique for cooking aromatics. Aromatics are ingredients whose purpose it is to create flavor upon which a dish can be built. With French cooking, those aromatics are often some form of mirepoix. For Italian, it’s a soffrito. Read more

Brothless Soup: The Soup for Summer

Posted by    |  August 20, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

Question: When you’re feeling the need to eat something cleansing, healthy and nourishing, what food comes to mind first? I betcha most of you think of soup.

I spent last week on a canoeing and rock climbing trip with 55 nine- and ten- year olds. It was a great time in a crazy way. Nevertheless, four days of white bread, limited veggies and too much sugar had me yearning for food that is pure and nourishing. More practically, I needed to get my guts moving again.

But it’s 91 freakin’ degrees and 100% humidity here in Chicago! As wonderful as Minestrone sounds- with zucchini, carrots, tomatoes and basil so fresh this time of year- it’s just too darned hot for soup. No problem. I worked this out last spring: it’s called the brothless soup. Read more

The Miracle of Mirepoix

Posted by    |  June 1, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Ingredients, Technique

I’m gonna teach you about something so elementary that it will seem almost silly.  Being in possession of this grand culinary secret will make you feel like a gourmet insider.  It may be what some of you need to leap from recipe slaves to recipe architects. Read more


Posted by    |  May 25, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

I am not going to lie to you and say that making homemade pasta doesn’t take any time.  It’s a bit of a project.  But once you tackle the few steps involved and appreciate the superior taste of freshly made pasta, you’ll be hard pressed to not make the time to create your very own.  Enjoy the process, get your friends or family involved, and the time will be most enjoyable. Read more

Spatchcock This!

Posted by    |  May 11, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

Okay, I admit it.  I do kinda like to say “spatchcock.”  It sounds naughty.  I’m like a little kid with a bubblegum cigarette, aren’t I?

I actually used this as the password for a website where I’d posted my book proposal.  I’m always forgetting passwords, so I wanted to make this one memorable.  “Spatchcockthis” was pretty unforgettable.  It felt like a dirty little secret of mine.  It was fun until I decided to show the proposal to some people I didn’t know so well.  This included my friend’s father, who is an Evangelical pastor with an interest in cooking.  I explained what “spatchcocking” actually meant, but the secret was out: Jill Shepherd has a trashy, trouble-making side.  Fair enough. Read more

A Salad to Come Home To

Posted by    |  April 27, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

Whenever I’ve been traveling I have something I look forward to even more than my own pillow when I arrive home: a big salad.  Eating well while on the road is a challenge, and all-too-often I’m forced to settle for something between two pieces of bread rather than a bountiful bowl of greens and veggies.  Returning home,  I’m back at the helm of my own kitchen.  Invariably, I want to create a healthful, balanced, and cleansing ensemble of produce that will help me put the unfortunate meals of my trip behind me. Read more

Mas o Menos? Menos, Por Favor!

Posted by    |  April 12, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

It’s not very often that you’ll be encouraged to aim for less.  But many times in the kitchen, the axiom “less is more” is a rule to live by.  Buy great ingredients, handle them simply, and add as little as possible.  Restraint can be your best friend! Read more

Accessories for Your Recipes

Posted by    |  March 24, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

I apologize in advance to all of the loggers, crabfishermen, and construction tradesmen who might be among our readers.  This article is probably only going to make any sense to women and those men among us who’ve got the “queer eye.”  I love this analogy, though and think it might really help many of the folks who can relate. Read more

Really? The Brown Stuff Has a Name?

Posted by    |  February 23, 2010  |  Filed under: Technique

I will always remember my amazement the first time I read that the brown stuff that’s left in the bottom of the pan is called fond. Someone gave that stuff a name!? Even more mind blowing was the revelation that you should eat it, rather than attacking it with an SOS pad. I read on and learned that fond is created by the Maillard reaction. Read more

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