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Tag: jam

When Waiting for Dinner and/or Summer: Fig Jam

There are many reasons, I suppose, that cheese and crackers are such an evergreen entertaining staple. They’re is easy, doesn’t have to be expensive, and pretty much everyone except the lactarded (raises hand) loves it. Of course, ubiquity has its own drawbacks, boredom being chief among them. The question, then, is how to keep the combo from going stale… metaphorically, at least.

I’m not about to start making my own cheese though, and if I’m going to make crackers they’re going to be sufficiently awesome to not need cheese on top. That, then, leaves the third point of the cheese, crackers and… whatever triangle. Frankly, the “whatever” part is often the most fun to futz with. Fruit, nuts, shmears of honey, or dribbles of balsamic; these can all wake up a cheese plate with their presence.

And while baked feta and goat cheese with jalapeno jelly are both really fun, sometimes one needs something a little more deconstructed…. a little dish that friends can customize and fiddle with while I finish up dinner preparations. It’s nice to whet the appetite and give them something to do, if only to keep them from offering to help.

Enter this lightly spicy, wine-dark fig jam. Great with a variety of cheeses, from mild to sharp and soft to firm, it’s perfect for this time of year when there’s not much going on in the produce department yet but the desire for little al fresco nibbles is running high. The figs are simply simmered in wine with a little chili and shallots adds their regal oniony background. Cutting both into ribbons makes for a compulsively scoopable, tangly mess that ’s great with cheese and crackers, but could also add verve as a sandwich spread or as a pan sauce for chicken or pork.

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Three Years in the Making: Passionfruit Curd

Despite the name of this here blog, I’ve actually only used actual passionfruits once–as a component of the faaaabulous Dacquoise Imelda, so I think that should count for twice–in over three years of writing. Given that it’s perennially in my top ten search terms, Mr. T (being a management consultant extraordinare) is always after me to cook with them so as to better capitalize on the vast millions out there googling “passionfruits”. Of course, he’s right, but… just… *sigh*

Leading search terms aside, passionfruits really are kind of magically delicious, so here we are. Although the vines grow well here in DC, and some early varieties can even squeeze out a few fruit by the end of the summer, passionfruits remain firmly in the strange exotica department, particularly with their varied, and slightly odd, looks.

While the fruit comes in a numerous colors, the ones we see most often are purple-rinded and best when slightly wrinkled. The ripe fruit are also mostly hollow, with only a tablespoon or so of seedy pulp, so the savvy shopper must ignore the ingrained habit of searching out taut-skinned, heavy specimens and instead pick the light, shrively ones.

After overcoming that moment of cognitive dissonance in the produce section, the rewards are pretty fierce. With an amazingly pungent, tartly tropical floral flavor punctuated by dark, crunchy seeds, passionfruit pulp possesses a unique taste that holds up uniquely well. Even after freezing, cooking, puree-ifying, the lovely essence of passionfruit always comes through like a champ where so many other  tropical flavors would give up the ghost.

This curd is no exception. Even with the cooking and addition of sugar and two kinds of fat (egg yolks and butter), the passionfruit flavor is still rewardingly assertive. It’s also a very basic thing to make and has SO many potential uses. Its unique flavor will add tropical juju atop your morning toast, sandwiched between cake layers, or just right off the back of your spoon.

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Apricot, Strawberry, Cherry: Time for a Summer Jam

Oh, today. Today is a day of questions… Why did some jackhole eat half the almonds in the packet at Whole Foods and then put it back on the shelf? Why did I not notice this till I got home? Why did my beautifully lush bee balm give up the ghost utterly, forcing me to wrench it out and leave a gaping hole in my tub garden? Why am I not in Santa Barbara, drinking my favorite champagne and watching all the pretty horses graze as the Pacific winks at me in the distance? Why? Sigh…

Today, however, is also a day with wonderments all its own. Three and a half hours extra sleep, tea in Dupont with a friend, and a good stretchy Pilates session go far to counteract the whys of the day. I also, for the first time this summer, saw all three of my summer jam fruits at the store at the same time. Apricots, strawberries, and cherries. It seems a bit crazy to moosh them all together, and it’d have never occured to me save for the languid summer afternoon I found myself with just a leftover handful of each–not enough to do anything major, or good enough to eat out of hand–so I made jam.

And oh my god, was it the best thing ever–like sunshine itself, the very essence of summer. Tart, musky apricot; bright, fragrant strawberries; and plump juicy cherries. All three flavors combine into a wall of fruity succulence that washes inexorably across your palate. Texturally, it’s pretty champion too. The apricots melt away into unctuousness, the strawberries soften and release their juices, and the cherries relax but retain a bit of snap–truly, something for everyone.

Obviously, if you’ve managed to get your hands on absolutely uber-primo apricots don’t bother making jam, just eat the damn things. However, a truly perfect apricot–richly honeyed, deeply perfumed, soft to the point of total surrender–is a rare and beautiful thing that I’ve only experienced once or twice. This jam makes the most of what we can regularly get at the grocery store and leverages the more quotidian pleasures offered by good strawberries and cherries.

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Spoon Cookies, Wider Than a Teaspoon…

There are times when I must accept something: I’m not Ina Garten or Martha Stewart.SpoonCookies
Sure, I’d like to think that I’m capable of turning out 150 individuals breakfast tarts for an area homeless shelter while knitting a Civil War outfit for a premature baby but, hey, I’m not buoyed by a sizable kitchen staff (or ANY kitchen staff) able to prep and prep and prep all day long. Case in point: this past holiday season. I fantasized about channeling Ina and Martha, whipping out varying cookies of different sizes, textures, and flavors; then wrapping them in individual bags and running about town, passing them out to friends:

“You’re welcome. Really, R-E-A-L-L-Y, it was nothing. Just a little butter and flour.”

In reality, it is something.  A lot, in fact.  In the end, there was no time and I knew there wouldn’t be any time until I made it to January, that time of the year where there is nothing but, uh, time.  Time to make these cookies, inclusive of just a few ingredients but a bit labor intensive as the butter is cooked in two stages and “some assembly is required.” Just like Fisher Price.

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