winter blackberry varenye: preserves 101

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My latest food column for the Eugene Weekly is on the stands!

In the article, I wrote a few tips for eating all the food that’s clogging up our freezers in the Willamette Valley, separated by freezer food groups:

  • meat;
  • berries;
  • small round vegetables; and
  • sauce.

If you’re looking for recipes I mentioned in the article and similar ones, here are two for frozen corn.  My summer blueberry liqueur and blackberry thyme vinegar recipes are now available for the clicking.  Fava bean recipes I wrote last year are here.  And an impromptu frozen chicken drum-ette fiesta with frozen tomato puree takes place under these words.

I thought I’d provide another good frozen berry recipe today: something to whittle down those berry bags.

Varenye is a loose Russian preserve served as a sweet treat.  In Russia, they eat it in a little bowl alongside tea, or actually in the tea itself as a sweetener.  I eat it on bread, but it would also make a good topping for crepes or waffles, since the berries are swimming in syrup.  Best yet: it’s a concoction anyone can make at any time.  You can use frozen berries and you don’t have to worry about sterilizing jars, since the preserve is stored in the freezer.  No pectin to buy, either.  It’s easy and delicious — what else can we ask for in late winter?

My varenye is made with frozen boysenberries and my homemade blackberry cordial, a  vodka-based fruit liqueur, but you can use any kind of blackberries.  Any berry, really.  This version has less sugar than some recipes, which can run up to a 1:1 ratio of sugar to berries. The instructions to bring the berries to a boil three times, cooling in between, seem unnecessary, but that’s how I first heard the recipe I rather like the tradition.

Blackberry Varenye Preserves

  • 3 c. sweetened frozen blackberries or boysenberries*
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3  T. vodka or other spirit (kirsch would be nice)
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice

Bring all ingredients up to a boil, stirring carefully to ensure the sugar has melted.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, removing foam if necessary.  Let cool, then bring to a boil again and simmer for 5 minutes.  Repeat a third time.  Pour varenye into freezer-safe containers and keep in the freezer, spooning out a bit into a bowl, spooning out a bit when you need it.  The sugar will keep the varenye from completely freezing.  You can also keep a small jar in the refrigerator, but the preserve lacks the copious amounts of sugar in regular jam and won’t keep as long, so plan on using refrigerated varenye within a couple of weeks.

Makes about 4 cups.

*I freeze my berries with a ratio of 1 c. sugar to 3 lbs. berries to keep them plump and individual in the freezer, as per MFP guidelines.

dining niblets: familiar faces, new places edition

You’ve probably already heard the news that Café Zenon (Zenon Café?  I can never remember) is reopening under the ownership of Ibrahim Hamide, the erstwhile owner of Café Soriah.  I was a little touched when I saw him on tv yesterday, promising to respect the traditions of this Eugene institution, even though I’m generally grumpy about the small pool of ownership among Eugene restaurateurs.  Hey, I have a soft spot for that kind of community spirit.  It rocks.

Another familiar face, Adam of his Place, has been operating Adam’s Sustainable Table for almost a month now.  We went and it wasn’t bad.  Adam mixed me a Sazerac with a icewater chaser, which was cool, explaining it was new on the menu and promising the second one would be better.  And it was.  I loved the simple herb “flower” arrangement on the table.  I think it was made of carrot tops.  That was a sweet gesture.  The food was perfectly serviceable and I didn’t have any negative experiences like some friends did when they visited.  Fried squid, a fish special, lamb stew with paparadelle, chocolate molten cake, if I recall.  I guess I was hoping for some new oomph to the menu, eye-opening combinations or something that screamed green.  Ah well.  What I ate was fine; I don’t want to be too negative.

In case you wondered about the review in Chow!, Black Rabbit Bistro is now called The Rabbit Bistro, but everyone still calls them Black Rabbit.  I still haven’t been, and have heard grumpy stories about the service and substitutions policy that make me not want to go.  Chillax, bunny.  We want to pet you, but you’re making it hard.

If you miss Morgenthaler, check him out all fancy and stuff, making a cocktail video for Imbibe Magazine.   I seriously wanted that damn Manhattan, even though I was watching the video at, like, 7 am.  Stirred, not shaken, indeed.

Speaking of which, it’s quittin’ time.  And that means I have an hour to relax before getting back to work, yay.

happy paczki day 2009

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It’s that time of year again, that donutty time of year which falls on the day before Lent begins.  Many Polish-American Catholic families round up the fats and flours in the household and use them to make paczki, the jam-filled donut, and call it Paczki Day.  Others go out and celebrate in the streets.

Me?  Each year, I desperately launch into a Google project to find a Polish bakery, a single Polish bakery on the West Coast, that might sell them to me, and celebrate by going to a crummy donut shop when I fail. Then I write to a bunch of people and wish them a Happy Paczki Day, with my wishes that the next year will bring fat fortune.

Yesterday, as I was celebrating in my traditional way, I was pleased to see there is at least one confirmed place in the PNW that sells paczki: a market in Seattle.  It then occurred to me that we have a new donut outfit in Eugene.  Holy Donuts makes organic, vegan donuts in novel flavors.  I had seen the donuts at our local Friendly Street Market, the Saturday Market, Market of Choice, Sundance, New Frontier, The Kiva, and other places around town.

So I gave owner Karen Nunley a call and asked her to make me a dozen paczki-style donuts, filled with raspberry jam.  They arrived on my doorstep this morning, and we are finally celebrating Paczki Day in style.

The donuts are fresh and cakey, with a filling that tastes of real raspberries and a vanilla glaze.  They are very sweet, but I forgive them that, since a non-sweet donut would be ostracized in the donut community.  I believe the filled ones need to be special-ordered until Holiday Market rolls around.  Karen told me that she’s planning to open up a shop in midtown in the near future.  Stay tuned…we might be able to go out for Paczki Day next year!

Thanks, Karen, and Happy Paczki Day to all!