• Recipes,  Vegetarian Recipes

    Grape pie, revisited.

    Concord grape pieAges back, I tried my hand at making a grape pie.

    It was… good but really not great and I purposely didn’t include a recipe for it at the time, because I wasn’t that thrilled with the way it turned out. It was kind of runny and overly sweet.


    I have since revamped the ingredients and method I tried originally and turned it into this post I wrote for my neighborhood paper, the Manhattan Times.

    I’m pretty pleased with the results.

    Better-than-Before Grape Pie

    – 4-5 cups (about 2 pounds) of grapes (ideally Concords, but any variety will do)
    – 3/4 cup sugar
    – 1/4 cup instant tapioca pearls
    – 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
    – Pastry for a 9-inch pie (top and bottom crusts)

    Wash the grapes and remove the skins. (Just pinch opposite the stem, and the pulp will pop right out.) Set the skins aside for now. Put the pulp into a heavy pan, bring it to a boil, and let it boil until the pulp starts to separate from the seeds. Remove the seeds by putting the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Pour the hot pulp over the skins and let the mixture sit for 6 hours or overnight.

    Stir in the sugar and tapioca, set aside for about 20 minutes, then pour the mixture into the bottom pie crust and dot with butter. Put on the top crust.

    Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook 20 minutes more until the crust is browned and the juice begins to bubble up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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  • Greenmarket Grub

    Greenmarket Grub: Red Currants


    In 2004, my husband and I were in Amsterdam, rushing down the street (as fast as I could push an umbrella stroller on cobblestone sidewalks without rattling my kid’s brains right out, anyway) to meet up with his family for dinner. On our way there, we approached a greengrocer’s stand selling some tiny, unfamiliar fruit, still clinging to thin branches. Smaller than blueberries and an amazing crimson color, I quickly realized they were red currants.

    I had never actually seen them before, other than in jam form. I gawked—for as long as I was able—at their amazing translucent skin that seems to catch the light in way my photo does not do justice to at all. I meant to go back and buy some, but I never quite got around to it and went home without having tried them.

    This love-at-first-sight-in-a-faraway-land story must be the reason I keep buying them… because it’s certainly not for the taste. You think of summer fruits and berries and oh, they’re all so juicy and sweet, right? Red currants, as I seem to willfully forget each summer, are shockingly tart. Sweeter than cranberries (although not by much) and without the bitterness of pomegranate seeds, but still quite tart. They’re not really a fruit I can just pop into my mouth and snack on without wincing a little.

    Currants are closely related to gooseberries (also quite tart) and, unsurprisingly, are a good, mouth-puckering source of Vitamin C. If you’re planning on getting your RDA from currants, though, better bring a checkbook—a tiny pint can often set you back $4 to $6 around here. Just for the sake of not wasting money, I tried to will myself to love these currants (yum, they’re so… lemony? oh god, who am I kidding?), but they slowly shriveled in my fridge until I conceded defeat and composted them.

    Next summer, when I will have almost certainly forgotten everything I’ve just said and fall in love with some beautiful currants again, I’ll be ready. I’m not a fan of cooked summer fruits; I’d much rather enjoy them as they are (and who wants to turn on the oven in an already 80-degree house?) but red currants supposedly mellow considerably when cooked. I think I’ll try my hand at redcurrant buns or maybe a bread pudding with currants. Next year, I won’t be quite so dazzled by their good looks again.

  • Recipes,  Vegetarian Recipes

    Turning Sale into Syrup

    blackberry-mint syrup

    I come from a long, proud line of compulsive sale shoppers. Because I live in a 750-square-foot apartment, I simply don’t have the room to indulge my sale fetish as much as I could (unlike, say, my grandfather who would regularly send me home with cases of soda or several boxes of cereal he’d bought on sale and had tucked away) but I did recently buy a pound of strawberries and two pints of blackberries which were going cheap at the supermarket.

    It didn’t seem like a lot of fruit at the time… until it started to languish in the fridge. It got to a point where it was not exactly at its peak of freshness, but not really compost scraps yet either. I also had a pile of fresh mint that appeared to be headed down the same road and I knew there had to be a way to combine the two.

    I had taken this month’s Martha Stewart Living (whose usual purpose is to remind me anew each month how much domestic shit I will never, ever manage to do) to the park with me one afternoon, and there it was: a recipe for fruit syrup. Using that as a general guide, I came up with this:

    Blackberry-mint syrup

    Combine 3 cups berries with 1/4 cup water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and let simmer for at least 10 minutes (or longer if you want a thicker syrup). As it simmers, crush berries with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Once syrup is the consistency you want, turn off the heat and add 2-3 sprigs of mint, then let cool. Use a mesh strainer to strain out the seeds and pulp. Makes about 2 cups.

    Although it’s runnier than honey, it’s about the same level of sweetness, and I’ve been using it in place of honey in a number of things — tea, yogurt, etc. — but my favorite use has to be combining a couple tablespoons of syrup with some ice and seltzer.

    syrup + seltzer = soda

    Oh yeah. Summer can not get here soon enough.

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  • Product Reviews

    Traverse Bay Farms Salsas: Is It Good?

    © Traverse Bay Farms



    Not the words that spring to mind when someone says “salsa,” so when Traverse Bay Farms offered to send me a sample pack of their salsas, I had some reservations. (Okay, my hesitation lasted about 30 seconds, and then I was all WOO FREE FOOD about it.)

    Traverse Bay sent along no less than SIX full-sized jars of salsa, one each of their different varieties. Although they’re all said to be “medium-hot,” I found the level of heat varied quite a bit from jar, which you’ll see in a minute.

    So… is it good? Overall, yes. Each salsa was as good or better than a premium (read: non-Tostitos) shelf-stable salsa, although I liked some mush more than others.

    Here’s my official ranking of the six different salsas:

    #1: Pineapple. I was the most uncertain about this one, but I assure you, this was possibly the best salsa I’ve ever eaten. Distinctly fiery and sweet and tart, without one overwhelming the others — like the greatest sweet-and-sour Chinese food goo on earth, but even better by making it spicy. It was the first one to get polished off and the one I missed the most once it was gone. If you’re only going to try one of these salsas, the pineapple one should be it.

    #2: Cherry. I really had my doubts about cherry salsa, but Traverse Bay won me over. Cherry anything can often be sickly sweet (or worse, cough medicine-ish) but this was only slightly sweeter and less tart than the pineapple salsa, and probably as close to fresh cherries as a jarred salsa could get.

    #3: Red Raspberry. Very hot and very sweet. It was honestly a little too much on its own, but I after combined most of the jar with an 8-ounce block of cream cheese, it became an absolutely incredible spread for crackers (or celery or, um, a spoon).

    #4: Peach. I admit, I’ve never been a fan of peach salsa. My husband really liked this one, but it was just too… peachy for me. I think it would have paired really well with pork, but someone finished off the jar before I could find out.

    #5: Corn. Much milder than I expected, the least spicy of the six, so a bit more like a corn relish than a salsa. The corn was was crisp and sweet but had a little of that odd canned corn taste going on. Not bad, but not my favorite either.

    #6: Black Bean. I dunno, this one just didn’t really do it for me. Maybe it was because the others were so great, but the black bean one was a bit bland and only kind of better than a store brand.

    Traverse Bay Farms Salsas (as well as a variety of other cherry- and fruit-based products) can be purchased through their site or through other online retailers.

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  • Product Reviews

    My latest food obsession:

    crazy preserves

    I’m loving these buckets of jam from the Russian specialty store (Food Palace, on Broadway and W189th) near me. It’s a pretty tiny store; more than five people in there and it gets almost impossible to navigate. They also have excellent pickles.

    The photo doesn’t really give a good idea of the scale of these containers: that one is slightly bigger than a pint of sour cream, and that’s the smaller of the two sizes they sell. The other one is about the size of big tub of yogurt.

    The sheer volume of preserves you get really allows you to lavish it on —- and to start rooting through your cabinets, thinking, what else can I eat this on? So far, this cherry jam (and its mixed berry predecessor) has made it on to various toasts and English muffins, been paired with that awesome sharp Cheddar, and even been stirred into cups of strong tea instead of sugar.

    The downside to this jam: I’m trying to limit myself to one at a time (and I’m really ready to move on to apricot or plum next). So… suggestions?

  • Product Reviews

    POM Still-Almost-But-Not-Quite-Wonderful

    Well, evidently I was wrong when I said I’d never get free stuff from PR people again.

    Photo credit: Dave’s Cupboard

    Yet again, like a bazillion other food bloggers, I also got POM’s two new flavors — POM Nectarine and POM Kiwi — in the mail. And in this second go-round of product placement, I think I’ve discovered something rather important:

    I don’t actually like pomegranate juice.

    I like fresh pomegranates. And I like pomegranate juice when it’s mixed with something else, like POM tea. (Oh man, remember when the POM tea used to come in that completely impractical glass? I had like, 20 of those glasses.) But just the juice… no. It’s too astringent, too mouth-puckery drying for me.

    With that in mind, I have to admit, I genuinely enjoyed the POM Nectarine flavor. It tasted like pomegranate, but the sweetness of the nectarine juice made it softer and… juicier. After drinking it, I actually felt less thirsty, as opposed to the blech-now-I-have-no-saliva feeling of straight pomegranate juice.

    Sadly, POM Kiwi was a bust. The kiwi flavor, what little there was of it, tasted unripe and sour — not a good match for the already sour pomegranate.

    If you’re keeping score thus far:
    regular POM juice – horrible
    POM Kiwi – not good
    POM Nectarine – actually kind of good

    So… POM .333 Wonderful: Hey, If This Was Baseball, That’s Like Almost As Good As Lou Gehrig