06 July 2009

While J's Away...

When J isn't around, I tend to eat strangely. I dine on cereal, almost-plain pasta (and pasta leftovers), and toast - lots and lots of toast. I don't get fancy. I don't spend a lot of time cooking. The way I see it, I'm pretty happy with cereal, pasta, and toast. On top of that, I don't like doing lots of dishes. That's J's job. He does the dishes. I cook; he cleans. I hate the cleaning up part.

In preparation for J's six days out of town, I bought a couple of boxes of Special K, whipped up a batch of bread dough, and scooped up a block of Parmesan cheese (the best minimalist pasta topping). J is coming back tonight and I haven't touched the cereal. I did eat one pasta dinner (and the leftovers for breakfast and lunch). Toast was consumed in quantity, as expected, although it was all from home-baked loaves.

So, I ended up doing quite a bit of cooking. I also ended up doing quite a bit of cleaning, but I didn't mind it too much because I cleaned as I cooked. I never let a bunch of dishes (or pots or baking pans or appliances) pile up. I strategically washed what I used before moving on to the next step. One can do that when she's not in a rush to feed her husband.

It's obvious that I baked a lot of bread this past week. My obsession with ciabatta and making the perfect loaf played out in ciabattas large and small. I also made a small pizza bianca with some olive oil and red pepper flakes worked into the crust. Most of this bread was consumed either freshly sliced from the loaf or toasted. I do that. I eat plain bread - lots of plain bread. I can't help myself. The rest of the bread was either pressed into pannini or toasted and eaten with homemade strawberry jam (more about that below) or eggs. The pannini were the result of an impulse buy I made while at Fairway last week. They have set up a stand where a haggard-looking soul makes fresh mozzarella all day long and packs it up for the crowds gathered around him. When the crowd thinned down, he sighed and looked at the piles of mozzarella balls piled up in front of him. I couldn't help but scoop one up and give him a smile of encouragement. I used up the ball of mozzarella over the course of the week, pressing it between thick slices of my homemade bread or melting it onto my pizza bianca. It was a delicious soft and creamy contrast to the crunchy crust I've been working on perfecting.

When I didn't feel like turning on the oven to bake bread, I turned to the stash of vegetarian chicken salad I picked up during my Fairway run. When I ran out of chicken salad, I made pasta (tossed with a bit of butter and some fluffy grated Parmesan cheese). When I ran out of pasta and didn't feel like cooking more, I made more bread. It was a starchy week.

When I wasn't cooking for immediate personal consumption, I was cooking for long-term storage. I scooped up several extra quarts of farm-fresh local strawberries while out and about and made batches of freezer jam. I had never heard of freezer jam until recently and I was curious. Using a special type of pectin, you can make jam without cooking it. The jam can be sugared (using much less sugar than cooked jams), left unsweetened, or sweetened with an artificial sweetener like Splenda. I made a batch with sugar and a batch with Splenda. I just mixed the crushed berries with the pectin and the sweetener until the mixture began to thicken then I poured the quickly-gelling jam into freezer jars. (These things are cool!) The jars can remain frozen for a year. So two and a half quarts each of no-sugar-added and low-sugar strawberry freezer jams were the first items that got "put up" in my new chest freezer. Now I'll be able to enjoy the taste of sweet July strawberries in December. I'm looking forward to it.

I had more strawberries and some cherries I picked up (at Fairway, of course) that needed some long-term preservation. Since my new KitchenAid ice cream attachment arrived on Thursday, sorbet was in order. After some recipe research, I determined that a good fruit sorbet recipe needs four basic ingredients: fresh fruit puree, citrus juice, sugar, and alcohol. The fruit puree and sugar are no-brainers. The citrus juice is a much needed shot of acid to prevent the sorbet from being sickeningly sweet. The alcohol prevents the mixture from freezing into a solid block of ice and could serve as a nice flavor enhancement. Strawberry margarita sorbet was my first experiment. I pureed strawberries with a little bit of sugar, some lemon juice, a shot of tequila, and a dribble of triple sec. Oh yeah. This stuff was good. I followed it up with a second, larger batch of the same with lime juice instead of lemon. It was good, but the lemons had a stronger presence. Maybe next time I'll mix both juices. After pitting two pounds of cherries, I pureed them with lots of lime juice and some vodka (I didn't want an alcohol flavor in this batch). In retrospect, I needed to add some more liquid to this batch because cherries aren't as watery as strawberries. I also needed some more lime juice as the cherries are a strong flavor unto themselves. I've got to scoop up some more berries and cherries while they're still in season and mass-produce some sorbet for J to enjoy later in the year. I think I'll experiment with watermelon too.

I wanted to take some time to make and can some cooked strawberry jam over the weekend, but I found myself either too tired or otherwise occupied with general housekeeping duties. I must confess that I'm quite intimidated with the idea of water-canning but I'm equally fascinated by the process as well. I've got three quarts of berries in the fridge that are prodding me to face my fears and get that giant pot of water boiling on the stove. I know what I'll be doing tomorrow!


  1. Thank you for your wonderful posts, my mouth waters as I read through them

  2. @Di - Thanks so much! Sometimes I think I'm just writing for myself. It's nice to know you're enjoying them!

  3. Nicole,
    I don't know if you are still going to be getting more strawberries, if so, I have heard about a cold straberry soup.... I could send you the recepie if you are interested.

  4. Hi Nicole,
    I,m Mike Lisa"s friend. Loved reading your blog! You have a very nice mix of personal info and good food info. I did not get through everything tonight, tired after a day in the sun, but I loved your tale of corn. Helen(wife and real food expert in our family) will love reading about you and your goings on.

    We are big corn lovers and will have every night when its in and sweet. We will try simmering the cobbs to make corn chowder-what a great winter meal to eat in front of the fireplace.

    I can also relate about the fridge being so full its hard to close the door. We have so much at times that when I'm looking for something I have to give a holler to Helen "where are the blueberries", etc. Of course she know and imnediately pinpoints the exact spot.

    Keep cooking and writing!!