Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

I have a confession to make: I’m not a gardener. Plants and I simply don’t mesh. There are all these studies out there saying gardening is good for you, how digging in the dirt leads to a strong immune system and a better mental health… But alas, despite to being born to avid gardener parents, I was definitely endowed with a brown thumb… or two. My aunt, whose apartment looked like a jungle full of luscious green foliage plants, used to say that the secret is to talk to your plants. It was an interesting theory… but the more I thought about it, the less I was sure I was buying it. I mean, I talk to my kids, and have been doing so for years… prattling on and on about how to behave and what I thought they should be doing and why. In the end they pretty much always did what they wanted anyway. So if the offspring, flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood don’t listen, why should I believe some shrubs from the Home Depot would?!

But talking or not talking method aside, I’ve tried many things to overcome this shortcoming: I tried to buy hardy plants, supposedly able to withstand unintentional manhandling. I tried to water them more and water them less; give them attention, or give them space and let them do their thing… but “their thing” in my care always seemed to just be dying. Sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but eventually I always managed to kill them all. They say the first step to overcome anything is to embrace the truth, so I may just as well come out and say it like it is: Hi, I’m Daniela, and I am a prolific plant killer. I’ve come to terms with this; in fact, we all have. Instead of flowers, Mr. Photographer buys me chocolate, and if he does bring me a potted plant from time to time, we have an unspoken agreement it will be up to him to take care of it for me. I enjoy admiring its beauty from a safe distance, casting furtive glances at it from the other room, but won’t dare to come much closer.

I rather stick to doing what I’m good at, which is processing the fruit of edible plants somebody else managed not to do in. I enjoy walking through farmers markets on lazy Saturday mornings, looking at all the beautiful abundance Mother Nature decided to give us, touching and smelling it, and then bringing some of it home and transforming it into something else. And this weekend, we’re jamming, which is probably my most favorite way of succulent produce transformation. Jam making is easy, relatively fast, and I get to play and come up with new and unusual yummy combinations. Plus, my men like pancakes 🙂 Here is a glimpse of what I made: The first one is a peach and cantaloupe jam, which turned out the most beautiful sunny yellow color. It’s also a little runnier (probably thanks to the cantaloupe and its high water content), and therefore awesome to spread on crepes. The boozy fig one is the real winner though. Sweet and a little tart, with just a hint of cinnamon. I threw in some fresh lemon peel and divided the brandy in half – half was poured into the fruit right at the start and left to macerate, and the second half I added at the end of cooking (I didn’t want all that boozy goodness to evaporate!) We tried it right away on some grilled cheese sandwiches, and although it may seem like an odd combination, it was delish! If you decide to only try making one jam this year, this should be it!

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Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves

(makes about four ½ – pint jars)

  • 450 g (1 lb.) peeled and seeded cantaloupe, diced
  • 450 g (1 lb.) yellow peaches, stoned, peeled, and diced
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup (125 ml) fresh orange juice
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
Method:
  1. Process the cantaloupe and peaches in a food processor or a blender. Pour the mixture into a deep saucepan.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients, and bring the fruit to a boil. Cook, stirring almost constantly, for about 20 minutes, until the jam thickens to your liking. (For more info about how to know if the jam is ready, see this Mirabelle Ginger Jam post).
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving about ¼ – inch space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process the jars in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes.
  4.  Remove the jars from the water and let them cool upside down. Store the jam in a dark, cool place for up to a year.

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Boozy Fig Jam

(adapted from http://www.epicurious.com; makes about six ½ – pint jars)

  • 2 kg (4 lbs.) fresh purple figs, divided
  • zest from 1 organic lemon
  • 10 tablespoons (about ½ cup) fresh lemon juice (to taste)
  • 4 cups (about 800 g, 28 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup (about 175 ml) brandy or cognac
Method:
  1. Process half of the cleaned and stemmed figs in a blender. Cut the remaining figs into ½ – inch (1 cm) pieces. Transfer all the figs into a deep big saucepan. Add in the sugar, lemon juice & zest, cinnamon & salt, and half of the brandy or cognac. Mix together, cover, and let stand at room temp for 1 hour.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook, stirring often, for about 30 – 35 minutes, until the jam thickens, breaking up the large fig pieces into smaller bits. Add the remaining brandy or cognac at the end. Remove from heat.
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving ¼ – inch space at the top of the jars. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands.
  4. Process in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool jars completely turning them upside down. Store in a cool dark place for up to a year.

 

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(Raw) Blueberry and Fig Torte

We’re apparently getting slammed by a heat wave. The temperatures are climbing into the 90’s during the day and we’re being warned about excessive heat and the need to take precautions everywhere we turn. It amuses me the same way as when we’re blessed with a random sprinkling of snow in December and the moment it happens they close schools and life in general comes to a halting stop until the last trace of the white intruder disappears from the roads. The high temperature of 92/34 is hardly a looming catastrophe and I don’t think we should treat is as something that it isn’t. C’mon, folks, slather on some sunscreen and be grateful for an extra dose of vitamin D – we have to gulp down pills for it the rest of the year around here!

Personally, I’m soaking up every bit of sunshine I can get these last couple of days. My middle name must be Lizard… I feel like I’m finally not shivering and my hands and feet are not deathly cold as they usually are. Plus I get to air out all my sundresses and play with sunhats which have become my latest obsession. (I know not everybody must be a hat person, but if you simply haven’t had a chance to play with hats yet, you should absolutely give them a try: I’m convinced a hat can take just about any outfit from ordinary to something special and fun!)

But let’s put our chef’s hat on for now, shall we? It is hot out there, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to forego desert, nor that we should! Many people seek refuge in ice cream on summer days, but I have to confess I’m one of those weirdos that dislike ice cream (too cold!). Maybe I’m the only one in the whole wide world, but on the slim chance you’re with me, I have a desert for you – and one you won’t have turn your oven on for, no less!

I love berries – strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries – anything ending with an -erry pretty much. This weekend’s treat showcases blueberries – plump, juicy, and sweet little gems that prove that the best things come in small packages (as someone who’s barely 5’3” on a good day, I’m absolutely positive about that). Blueberries are nutritional powerhouses – they aid digestion, lower heart disease risk, improve vision, act as natural anti-depressants, they even have the ability to reduce belly fat. The last bit won’t apply if you mix them with a cup of coconut cream as we’ll do here I guess, but when you’ll taste the wonderfully rich and creamy filling, you won’t care about that – at least until you devour every last bite on your plate 😉 But blueberries are just the beginning; for this desert they joined their forces with another awesome member of the purple fruit family: figs. Although I haven’t met fruit I wouldn’t like yet, figs are definitely up there on my list of great summery treats. I think they’re one of God’s best creations – fig leaves can even double up as underwear as referenced by the Bible, which might come in handy on days when we’re drowning in dirty laundry…, and the fruit is simply to die for. If figs aren’t plump, juicy, and sweet, I don’t know what is!

As I said, don’t bother turning on your oven, and don’t plan on spending hours in the kitchen, either: If you remember to soak your dates and cashews a couple hours in advance, this torte comes together in a snap. It’s best to make it a day before you want to serve it, but after it’s assembled, you can just stick it into the freezer and forget about it. Take it out ten minutes before serving, top it with handful of blueberries, some fresh figs and dry coconut shavings – and voilà! Rich and creamy purple haze for a hot summer day!

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(Raw) Blueberry and Fig Torte

(recipe adapted from www.coconutmagic.com)

 Crust:
  • ½ cup shelled raw pistachios
  • ¼ cup raw hazelnuts
  • 5 – 6 dates, soaked in hot water for at least 15 minutes
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch salt
Filling:
  • ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours in water or coconut milk
  • ¾ cup canned coconut cream (not milk)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut nectar (I subbed maple syrup)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 fresh purple figs
  • pinch of purple coloring, such as TruColor Natural Food Color Powder (optional)

+ fresh berries, figs, and dried coconut shavings for decoration

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Method:
  1. For the base, line a 7-inch (18 cm) springform pan with parchment; lightly grease the sides if you wish.
  2. Process all the crust ingredients listed in the food processor until they form a sticky paste. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate or freeze while you make the filling.
  3. For the filling, blend all of the ingredients except food coloring in a high power blender until smooth. Transfer the filling into a bowl and gradually add the food coloring if you wish (The color of the filling will depend on the blueberries used; the smaller/darker ones will usually give you darker and more pronounced shade of purple. My filling looked kind of grayish, so I ended up using a bit of coloring, even though I usually try to avoid it in my baking.) Pour the filling onto the prepared crust, smooth out the top, and place the torte in the freezer for at least 5 hours (overnight is better).
  4. To serve, remove the torte from the springform pan onto a serving plate about 10 minutes before serving, and decorate with fresh berries and figs and dried coconut flakes.
  5. Dig in 🙂 Store the leftover slices in the freezer.

Yeast Crescents with Walnut Filling

I just came back from a month long trip to Europe to see the family. I must say there wasn’t much baking going on while I was there – the kitchen in the apartment I was renting was so tiny I wouldn’t’ve even been able to place two baking sheets side by side on the counter – but the less time I spent in the kitchen, the more I enjoyed visiting with friends and family. I’ve missed them all more than the words can say, and I treasured every moment: The hugs, chats, and laughs we’ve shared together will now have to carry me over for a whole year, at least.

Living an expat life is not easy. Sure, it is exciting to be able to travel new places and get to know new people, and it’s exhilarating to rise to the challenge to build a completely new life from scratch somewhere else. It binds you to the person you’re in this adventure with – after all, at least in the beginning there won’t be anyone else you could depend on for a while. But this life also comes with an inevitable sense of loneliness: there are birthdays you are going to miss, weddings you won’t be able to attend. Not to mention Christmas holidays when you try your hardest to replicate the magical atmosphere you used to know from home, but despite the traditions you try to keep alive and cookies you bake with your kids exactly the same way your mom used to, somehow it still doesn’t work: the cookies taste different, the Christmas tree doesn’t smell quite so fragrant, and deep down, you know it’s not the same. It can’t be – it’s about the people, and they’re not there with you.

But you keep keeping on, and after a while you learn to adapt. Little by little you put down roots. You start making the new place your home and just when you think you might’ve finally gotten it down, something happens: a conversation in the grocery store or chit-chat with your hairdresser perhaps, which will remind you again that even after all these years you’re still very much a foreigner. You think differently, and no matter how much you try, in many ways you are still unlike the people around you. At that moment you can’t wait to go back “home”, even if for a short while. You get up, fly across the globe and eagerly step off that plane… and within hours you realize the strangest thing: The life you’ve been building somewhere else has changed you, and now even here, in a place you grew up in and used to know so well, you’re different. There are things you don’t understand anymore, some that annoy you, or downright drive you crazy. You might be home, but you’ve become a stranger in your own land.

You’re now officially an expat: a person whose home is neither here nor there, or who has home in both places at the same time. I still haven’t quite figured out how to have two homes. It feels weird to fly out to go “home” and then to be returning “home” when the trip is over. But that’s exactly how it is and I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. Home is where people you love are, and as long they will be here and over there, thousands miles apart, so will be my two homes.

I have to say I’ve missed my big kitchen while away. I’ve never appreciated it more than when I was bumping into Mr. Photographer when we randomly met in the teeny rental kitchen getting a glass of water in the middle of the night. As usual, I brought new cookbooks and tons of cooking magazines from the trip, and couldn’t wait to put them to good use. These little yeast croissants are a special dessert from the region I grew up in. The yeast dough they’re made from is very rich – traditionally, the weight of the butter should be about 30 % of the amount of flour used. The high amount of butter and no egg whites in the dough also make the pastries very soft. The croissants can be filled either with walnut or poppy seed filling. After they’re formed, they are given a coat of egg wash and quite unusually they’re left to rise not in a warm place, but in a draughty spot to make the egg dry up. When that happens, they’re brushed with egg yolk again – the double egg wash will give them their typical cracked glaze appearance. They should’ve had more of a horse-shoe shape; they were just right going into the oven, but still puffed up a little too much while baking. Oh well – they still disappeared in no time, and making them helped me to deal with the very fresh acute homesickness I’m feeling at the moment… so I guess they’ve accomplished what they were supposed to 🙂

(Note to self: When you’re scheduling to publish a post, it would be helpful not to forget to insert the pics! I’ll blame it on the jetlag… sorry about that.)

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Yeast Croissants with Walnut Filling

(recipe makes about 30 pastries)

Dough:
  • 390 g (about 13.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 scant teaspoon dry yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup lukewarm milk, divided
Walnut Filling:
  • 2 cups walnuts, ground
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/8 cup hot milk
  • handful of raisins (optional; not in the traditional recipe, but I always add raisins to nut- and poppy seed filling to keep it moist)

+ 3 egg yolks, beaten – for egg wash; 1 egg white – for brushing the edges of the dough

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Method:
  1. To make the yeast dough, first combine 1/3 cup of lukewarm milk, pinch sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand for couple of minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. In the meantime, place all the remaining ingredients for the dough except milk into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, pour it in, and with the mixer on a low speed, begin kneading the dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, carefully adding the rest of milk if necessary to make a smooth and soft dough. Let the dough rise, covered in a warm spot, for 30 – 40 minutes.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by combining all the ingredients listed. The filling should be somewhat sticky and hold together enough so that you can make a small cylindrical “snake” out of it. If it’s too dry, add a splash more milk, if it’s too wet, add in some plain breadcrumbs/cookie crumbs. Cover the filling and set it aside.
  4. Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface and divide it into small balls (each portion should weigh about 25 g/0.8 oz.) Cover the dough balls with a dish towel and always take just the one you’re working with to keep them from drying out. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. To form the crescents, take a ball of dough and roll it gently into an oval. Roll about 10 g/0.3 oz. of filling into a small cylinder and place it in the middle. Brush the edges of the dough with a little egg white and enclose the filling into the dough. With a palm of your hand, gently roll the filled dough into a thin cylinder about 10 cm/ 4 inches long and place it seam side down on the baking sheet, giving it a horse-shoe shape. Continue making the pastries, giving them enough space on the sheet to rise.
  6. Brush the croissants with egg yolk and let them rest, uncovered, in a cold drafty place until the glaze dries up (I chilled mine for about 20 minutes in the fridge).
  7. When the egg wash dries up, take the pastries out of the refrigerator and give them a second layer of egg wash. Let them rise for about 20 minutes on the counter while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  8. When the oven is ready, prick each croissant twice with a fork to prevent it from bursting open while baking, place the baking sheets in the oven, and bake the pastries for about 12 – 14 minutes until they’re darker golden brown.