Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blueberries, booze, baking, and a baby

Here in San Diego it’s difficult if not impossible to find berries growing in the wild. Sure you can go to the grocery store or a farmers market to pick up a pint but more often than not the berries they have are terribly expensive and slightly if not seriously bruised, wilted, and at worst moldy! Berries such as raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are so delicate and temperamental that they are really best enjoyed within a few days of being picked. While we may not have much in the way of wild berries in the southwest what we do have are a handful of berry farms that allow you to come and pick your own straight form their vines. Lucky for me I read about one such place just in time to visit them on July 6, the last day of Temecula Valley Berry Company’s blueberry picking season. Because it was the last day they had a special, two pints for the price of one (hurray for sales!!). Sunday afternoon I slathered up with sunscreen, grabbed my hat and berry picking companion Steve and we headed to Temecula to harvest some of the little blue fruits.

After an hour out in the fields picking (and sampling) the berries in the 100+ degree heat we weighed our fruit and found we had picked 5 pints worth!

In addition to the berries we also picked up a jar of their sweet honey as well as a tip for a winery to check out down the road a bit called Churon. Like many of the wineries in Temecula I found that I enjoyed their lighter hued wines best, of particularly delicious note was the 2005 Rosé and the White Merlot both which were perfectly sweet yet light and refreshing, perfect for sipping after a hot afternoon of berry picking. After we finished our tasting we headed to one of my favorite Temecula wineries, Keyways where we enjoyed their premium tasting of 8 different wines.

I love the First Crush which is a sweet and crisp rosé that is the perfect wine for sipping on a warm day. Also of delicious note is their sweet and velvety Ice Wine which would make an excellent dessert wine to serve after a summer dinner.

On our way home from Temecula we stopped at Henrys to get a snack of Yerba Matte mint iced tea and some Food Should Taste Good brand gluten free tortilla chips.

The tea as always was refreshing and the chips were delish! Light, crispy, and grainy they almost reminded me of Sun Chips (a former fav of mine!). I think these would be great with a fruity salsa or hummus. Next time I think I want to try the sweet potato chips or maybe the chocolate ones.

After a snack filled car ride home I got busy right away packaging up blueberries, freezing some to use later and washing others to bake with and snack on the next few days. I then started prepping some flour to bake tarts with when Steve got a telephone call from his mom saying that Steve’s sister had just had her baby! So off to the hospital we went to meet the newest member of the family, Mitchell Thomas.

So tiny and cute! Mom and baby were both doing great and after a bit of visiting and getting my fill of new baby holding time we headed home where it was back to the kitchen for me to finish what I had started. First on the agenda of blueberry baked goodies were muffins.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins with Lemon Glaze

Sorry to tease but recipe for this treat will be coming soon!

Next I decided to make an old favorite of mine a dessert that I used to make all the time using gluteny flours. The recipe is loosely based upon one I found years ago in a book called “The Last Course: Desserts of Gramercy Tavern” by Claudia Fleming. I tinkered with the recipe to eliminate the gluten, lower the fat and sugar, and make it so it is easy to convert it to a vegan recipe if you are so inclined.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tarts

Ingredients for tart shells

¾ cup brown rice flour
½ cup potato starch
¼ cup tapioca flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon xanath gum
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons earth balance (or butter), softened slightly

Mix all of the dry ingredients together and then add your butter. Using your hands break up the butter until it is fully combined with the dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball and then flatten into a flat round circle with your hands, wrap this in plastic wrap and pop in the fridge for at least 1 hour and at the most 24 hours to chill.

Once the dough has chilled a bit (or a bunch!) and you are ready to make your tart shells preheat your oven to 325 and take your dough out of the plastic wrap and form into little balls. This number will vary depending upon what pan(s) you use to cook your tarts, I personally used a muffin pan so I had 12 balls but if you have different sized tart tins you can use those and adjust the size of your balls to fit the tins. Keep in mind though as with many gluten free doughs it is easier to work with a small shape to avoid tearing. After you spray your pan(s) with cooking spray you are ready to start shaping your dough. Once you have your balls made using your hands or a rolling pin form the dough to a shape a bit larger than the mold of the pan you will be fitting it to. When the dough has reached the desired size and shape for the pan gently place the dough into the pan and then crimp and clean up the edges so it fits nicely within it. Repeat until all of your dough is used and then using a fork prick the dough all over a bit to keep it from puffing up too much when you bake it. Pop this back in the fridge for 30 minutes and then bake for 15 – 20 minutes, checking every so often to make sure the shells are not browning too much (your cooking time will vary depending upon your pan size).

Once your shells are done allow them to cool completely before filling them. You can fill these delicious shells with anything your heart desires, the cream cheese and berries is always a yummy treat and simple to prepare.

Cream cheese filling ingredients

6 or 8oz container reduced fat cream cheese or tofutti cream cheese
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl combine your cream cheese product of choice with, sugar and vanilla and mix until fully combined. Feel free to add more sugar if you like it sweeter. Pop this sweet concoction into the fridge and keep cool until your tart shells are chilled and you are ready to serve them.

Blueberry topping ingredients

2 cups of blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine sugar and 1 cup of the berries in a small saucepan and cook on low heat until the sugar has melded with the berries to form a syrup and the berries have broken down, about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture and discard the solids then add the remaining cup of blueberries to the sauce. Let this cool and then transfer to a container and chill in the fridge till you are ready to use.

Putting it all together

Fill each tart shell with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture then top with the berries. You could also top these with other berries or fruits. I made a couple topped with a peach butter preserve I recently made for my mom who does not care for cooked blueberries (a fun lesson on canning and peach preserve recipe soon to come!).

These actually took a couple days to complete as I got a pretty late start working on them and the dough had to chill for a while and I had to sleep. But let me tell you they were scrumptious! The tart dough reminded me of shortbread and the sweet blueberries melded with the rich cream cheese made for a decadently delicious treat.

Even after all of this blueberry baking fun I still had plenty of berries left over. Aside from baking and topping yogurt and ice cream with another one of my favorite ways to enjoy berries is sprinkled atop salads which brought me to this delicious decision, the delicious theme for next weeks meals is going to be salads!


Anonymous said...

I simply must have an order of Blueberry Cream Cheese Tarts and I won't take no for an answer! When can I place my order? Have you thought about writing a cook book?

rachel marie said...

i would love to write a cook book or make you tarts if you will fund the endeavor :)