Blueberries in February…?

Raw Blueberrry JamAm I the only one who has been baffled by the mass quantities of cheap blueberries available in the middle of winter? A little poking around the internet tells me that they are apparently from Chile, which has turned into a mega producer and exporter of the little blue fruit. I suppose I should be suspicious of this new “global market” we’re living in and be cautious of what effect purchasing this product has on our planet… but I really love blueberries…. and they’re so cheap… and sooo goooooddddd……

These days when I am presented with a quantity of cheap blueberries, they wind up in my morning juice. Not only are they sweet and incredibly flavorful, they have more antioxidants than any other food on the planet – what better way to start your day? Still, I can’t help but wonder what other creative applications I can use on these amazing little berries. Being a lover of jam, I was thinking I could make some, but the amount of sugar one has to use to make jam is not really bootcamp-friendly. Besides, it’s so easy to just throw blueberries in a pot with sugar – what about keeping them raw? What about butter??? Ooooo!

So here’s what I did. I took a half-pint of blueberries and a half-pint of blackberries and emptied them into my food processor. I did some digging around my cabinets and found some coconut sugar I got from Whole Foods a month ago – it’s a natural sugar (i.e. not processed), so it’s super good for you. I put a tablespoon in. You can substitute maple sugar or sugar in the raw or just some white sugar if you’re not terribly concerned. I then added in two tablespoons of organic raw agave nectar. Why? Because I had it leftover from when I made fresh ginger ale last week. Honey would be perfectly fine as well. Then, a pinch of salt, a drop of vanilla, and I needed some citrus… hmmm…  oh, I’ll steal one of these fresh oranges from my roommate. I squeezed half of it in. But now we need something to thicken this concoction that is not flour or cornstarch or anything super processed. I did some digging around and came up with the answer: ground chia seed. It’s an incredible natural thickener. And more importantly I had it in my kitchen. 1 tablespoon in the work bowl. Grind it all up in the food processor until smooth, put it in a bowl, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Voila, raw berry jam. Not at thick as a real jam, but the flavor is crazy fresh and intense, and as you can see from the pic, it sits beautifully on toast. Here it is in list form:

  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries (or a mixture of blue and blackberries)
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar (or any raw, unprocessed sugar like maple or stevia)
  • 2 tbsp organic raw agave syrup (or honey)
  • 1 drop vanilla
  • 1 small pinch of salt
  • the juice of 1/2 an orange
  • 2 tbsp ground chia seed

–Process all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Done.

Now you could stop here, but I looove me some compound butter, so I did that too. Take 1/2 stick of room temperature butter and mash in about 2 tablespoons of the jam. Form the mixture either into a ball or a log or whatever you want and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Now you have this wonderfully colorful butter to spread on toasts, muffins, croissants, your body – whatever you like! If you want to double or triple the recipe, I would recommend using a hand mixer or kitchen aid to whip it together really well.

If you just can’t get enough blueberry,  check out these other fantastic recipes from my blog:

Blueberry Coffeecake Muffins
Blueberry Pie
Mixed Berry Salsa
Maple Vanilla Fruit Salad
Crust Knots (if you decide to make pie)

Acorn Goodness

Roasted Acorn SquashThis time of year I’m seeing bins of acorn squash at all my local grocery stores. It’s perhaps a little off putting to see a vegetable in the shape of a giant hard acorn. I mean what the hell are you supposed to do with it, crack it? Plant it and see if a tree grows? But the truth is that when roasted properly, acorn squash makes a delicious and satisfying winter time dinner that will fill you up without deviating at all from your healthy regimen. Definitely Bootcamp friendly. ;-)

So here is what you do. Very easy. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Cut your acorn squash in half against the grain. Scoop out the seeds and guts from the crevices and then trim the outer ends so that the squash will sit straight up with the crevices facing up. Coat the outside skin with a very thin layer of olive oil, then place them on a foil lined quarter sheet pan. Now for some flavor. In a small bowl combine the following:

  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp maple sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
  • pinch of clove
  • pince of cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Mix thoroughly and spread evenly between the two halves. Rub mixture thoroughly over the flesh of the squash and drain any excess that pools into the bottom of the cavity back into the bowl and set aside. Season liberally with salt and fresh ground pepper. Then place a small pat of butter in each half of the squash. Put tray into the bottom half of the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft and the edges are crispy.

Eat directly from the squash, drizzling the remaining maple syrup mixture over each half and adding some extra butter as desired. Or, scoop out all the squash, place into a bowl and lightly mash together with the left over syrup, some extra butter, and an extra sprinkle of maple sugar. As I always tell you, do not run out to buy spices you don’t already have. Make up your own seasoning. Brown sugar can easily be substituted for maple sugar, but maple sugar is really great stuff.

Have a fantastic weekend!

Maple Vanilla Fruit Salad

Well friends it looks like this is going to be Costco week. I’ve said it before I’ll say it again – I love Costco. Starving artist’s best friend. I went at the end of last week and ended up with quite a bounty of items. As you know, the point of Costco is bulk, and as you further know, the starving artist loves a bargain that he is able to morph into many diverse treats. First up – berries. I bought a gigantic bucket of gorgeous strawberries for $5 as well as a sizable container of blackberries for $4. Of course the majority of these beauties are destined for my juicer, but since I have SO many I thought what a perfect opportunity to make a fruit salad. But throwing fruit in a bowl is not good enough for the starving artist – no no. I need to use my pantry to make it sparkle. I immediately went for the maple sugar – I’m sure you remember me talking about it in my Maple Roasted Sweet Potato post.  I sliced 7 strawberries and placed them in a small bowl with a few handfuls of blackberries and some blueberries I got from Trader Joe’s for $2.99. I threw in about 3 tablespoons of maple sugar. two to three drops of vanilla extract, tossed it all together, and let it sit on the counter for a good 20 minutes (as long as an hour would be even better). When I was ready to eat it I sliced up a banana and tossed that into the mix along with a handful of sliced toasted almonds for crunch. Delicious.

If I really had it my way I would have used the innards of a vanilla bean instead of extract, but I’m the starving artist – there is no budget for such luxury. Also if you’re looking to make it completely over the top you can drizzle on a little maple syrup before you eat. And of course, this is fruit salad, which means you can put in whatever you want. Maple and vanilla are two of my favorite flavors on earth, and I love fresh berries, so this salad does it for me, but there are so many possible variations. Here are some ideas:

  • Top it with a dollop of your favorite honey-flavored greek yogurt
  • Use granola instead of almonds for added flavor and texture
  • Instead of maple, use plain sugar and toss in a few finely diced leaves of mint.
  • Almond extract would work well in this application, as would peppermint, just be careful – potent stuff
  • Use any combination of fruit you love – pineapple, grapes, mango, pear, apple, etc, etc.

Stay tuned for more treasures from Costco, including what to do with a huge tray of campari tomatoes and how you can put a bucket of cilantro lime shrimp to excellent use. God I love summer.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

So I have a serious thing for maple. Like, borderline a problem. I went to college in northern Vermont where there are two things you can always count on: Ben & Jerry’s and 100% pure maple syrup. There is no going back from either. Suffice it to say you will never find “pancake syrup” or any bottle in the shape of a large black lady wearing a babushka in my fridge. Naturally, when I discovered that Trader Joe’s now carries organic maple sugar, that is, granulated sugar made from maple syrup, a delicacy I could normally only find on special order for quite a hefty price, I got a little bit too excited. If you haven’t experienced the wonders of maple sugar, I highly recommend it. At only $4.99 for a 6oz pouch, it will bring unique depth of flavor to your recipes for little money. Try substituting it anywhere you would use regular sugar – cakes, cookies, oatmeal, fruit topping. Of course I already have 1000 ideas for creative ways to employ this heavenly substance, but the first I am sharing with you is, as you might have guessed, Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes – a simple, down-home favorite with an elegant twist.

I love sweet potatoes all year round – they are not only satisfying but incredibly healthy. I make a mix of maple sugar and various other spices on my rack. I coat the potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the spices, and roast them in a pan in the oven until they are deliciously soft and slightly caramelized. Then I give them a quick mash with a bit of maple syrup and butter. Heaven. Leave the skins on for extra texture and nutrition. Though it’s not pictured, I highly recommend topping with pecans before eating. This recipe (or any sweet potato recipe) is hearty enough to serve as a meal on its own. In fact, the picture above was my entire dinner. When you consider that each potato was 69 cents at Trader Joe’s and the rest of the ingredients I already had in my kitchen, I essentially fed myself dinner for $2.07. Yes, I could have had it as a side dish, but truthfully I didn’t need anything else. I was perfectly satisfied without an ounce of guilt. That, friends, is how the starving artist does it.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Recipe PDF)

Important Note About Spices

The starving artist uses whatever he or she has on hand. This means that you should NOT go running out to buy the spices I list in this (or any) recipe. Use what you have. Having said that, I believe that spices are always a good investment, since you buy them once and will have them at your disposal for numerous recipes. But of course, as is my motto when it comes to cooking, do what you like and don’t apologize. Hmm, this sounds like it could be its own blog post…

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