Okay, I concede. As much as I adore strawberries and blueberries, there is something quite special about blackberries — as long as you strain out the seeds. One of the best things about our house in the country is the old blackberry bush in the side yard. The berries are ready for picking near the end of July, and rather than make a pie or cobbler as some might, I opt for putting up a quantity of sweet, rich coulis. This luscious sauce can then be portioned and frozen for use all year round to drizzle over vegan ice cream or pancakes, or thickened slightly to use as a divine topping for a vegan cheesecake.
You know a berry is ripe if it pulls off the vine with little effort, and many of ours pulled off effortlessly this week. We picked our first harvest just two days ago, bringing in about six quarts, from which I extracted five cups of rich, gorgeous sauce.
After washing the berries, I place them, a batch at a time, into the top of a steamer pan fitted over a saucepan. First, I use a potato ricer to mash down the berries, allowing the liquid to squeeze into the saucepan. I continue to mix and mush the purple mess back and forth with a rubber spatula to squeeze as much juice through the holes as possible. After about five minutes, I discard the pulp and seeds. I add about 3/4 cup of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice and bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then I turn it off. At this stage, I pour the blackberry coulis through a fine-mesh sieve, which catches the finer bits of seeds.
And that’s all there is to it. I portion the sweetened juice in little containers and freeze them, so I can take them out one at a time as I need them. Last year’s harvest made enough to last all year. I think we have even more this year, and that’s with sharing the berries with the squirrels, birds, deer, and ducks.
For a different kind of berry experience this week, we were treated to a truly no-fuss dessert: as in “rip open the wrapper” no-fuss. I usually don’t serve dessert unless we have company, but when a box of Roman Bars (named for Roman Starno who developed them) arrived earlier that day, a dessert seemed destined.
Sometimes certain product samples come my way that make my husband Jon smile. Such was the case with these vegan chocolate-dipped fruit bars. (Think Fig Newtons dipped in chocolate, only the filling is blueberry or raspberry instead of figs). Since Jon is a chocoholic, these bars had him at “chocolate” but when he found out about the blueberry and raspberry fillings, he was impressed that he could actually feel virtuous eating chocolate, since he would also be eating some fruit along with it. The fruit filling does cut down on the guilt-factor one can get from eating a regular chocolate bar, and the berry flavors match well with the chocolate. I’ll bet they’d be good dipped in some blackberry coulis.
Last summer, our vegetable garden produced a mountain of zucchini, so this year we decided to mix things up a bit and plant some yellow summer squash, too. I’m glad we did. I use the yellow squash in all the same ways I cook zucchini and sometimes I’ll use one of each in a recipe, just for the color contrast.
Two of the four yellow squash pictured here I simply diced and roasted in an oiled baking pan at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or so, turning once. I had seasoned them with salt and pepper while they baked. Once tender, I tossed them in a bowl with some fresh chopped parsley and halved cherry tomatoes from the garden. So simple and so good.
The other two squashes inspired an “improv” casserole that turned out to be a cross between mac-and-cheese and that Southern-style yellow squash casserole that every grandmother in the South makes when squash is plentiful.
To make the casserole, I chopped the squashes and sautéed them with a chopped sweet onion until soft. While the squash and onion were cooking, I rummaged through my refrigerator and found some leftover cooked angel hair pasta and a container of creamy chive-flavored Sheese.
For the sauce, I combined 1/2 cup of the same creamy Sheese in a bowl with about 2 cups of soy milk to make a thick sauce. I stirred in a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast, salt and pepper, and some snipped chives to bring out the chive flavor of the Sheese. I cut through the cooked pasta a few times with a knife so the pieces would be more manageable, and mixed the pasta, sauce, and cooked squash and onions together. I then spread the mixture in an oiled baking dish, topped it with dry breadcrumbs, and baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. I served it with a bowl of diced tomatoes simmered with garlic and basil. The quick and easy casserole was totally yummy and there are loads of possibilities for variations, using different vegetables and herbs.
Finally, I want to say a big THANK-YOU to everyone who took the time to post a comment or send me an e-mail about my six-month post. Your suggestions for improvement to my blog are very helpful, and I hope to implement many of them in the coming months. I also want to tell you all how very much I appreciate your kind words about my blog. It’s nice to know there are so many of you reading and enjoying it, and it’s also a great motivator to keep me blogging. As promised, one commenter was chosen at random to receive a free cookbook, and so a copy of Vegan Fire & Spice goes to: Annette. [Note to Annette: please e-mail me with your address and I’ll get a book out to you!]
Just six months ago today, I posted my first-ever blog entry. Until then, blogging was something “I’ll get to when I have time” — only I never seemed to have time. Heck, I never even had time to read other people’s blogs, much less write my own.
Now, I’d like to ask you all to help me celebrate this six month juncture by giving me a “Performance Evaluation.” For your help, I’ll pick a responder at random and send you one of my cookbooks. So, please take a moment and tell me:
· What do you like most about my posts?
· Do you enjoy the occasional non-food photos (such as my kitties or, say, this lovely butterfly)?
· Am I forgetting anything?
Use the sweetest ripest strawberries you can find. To experience the full flavor of the fresh berries, serve this pretty no-bake pie within four hours of preparing it. This recipe has been adapted from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook.
1 1/2 cups almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups sliced strawberries
6 pitted dates, soaked 10 minutes in warm water and drained
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2. Arrange 4 cups of the sliced strawberries on top of the crust in a circular pattern and set aside. 3. In a food processor or blender combine the remaining 1 cup of strawberries with the 6 dates, agave, and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Pour the sauce mixture over strawberries and refrigerate the pie for 1 hour before serving.
Makes 6 servings
The Quinoa-Stuffed Avocados from Vegan Fire & Spice, really hit the spot for last night’s dinner. I cooked up the quinoa early and then assembled the rest of the ingredients just before dinnertime.
The recipe can serve four people for a light lunch or salad course, but if you’re serving it as I did (as dinner for two hungry adults with a taste for quinoa and avocados), then it serves two.
Do I need to mention how nutritious quinoa is? If you’re not familiar with this hearty South American grain, it’s super-high in protein and rich in iron and other nutrients. It has a delicious nut-like flavor and is very satisfying.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, minced
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 ripe Haas avocados
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 large butter lettuce leaves
Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes to soften. Transfer the onion to a bowl. Add the reserved quinoa, tomato, parsley, salt, and pepper, and mix until well combined.
Carefully halve the avocados lengthwise and remove the pits. Running a small knife around the between the avocado skin and flesh, remove the pulp, keeping the shells intact.
Cut the avocado pulp into 1/2-inch dice and add to the quinoa mixture. Add the lemon juice and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Spoon the mixture into the reserved avocado shells and serve immediately on salad plates lined with lettuce leaves.