Damson Juniper Berry Compote

Though it was windy the other day, we (I speak of myself and the little dog) braved the outside to pick some damsons, which have been hanging guiltily—or, rather, guilt-producingly—on the trees outside. I have never had fruit anxiety; living now with fruit trees has produced a new sort of responsibility: to make sure that their fruit is not wasted. And so, as I’ve watched the damsons get riper in recent weeks, I thought, sh*t, I better start thinking about jam.

This isn’t really jam, I have to warn you, though it’s close; it’s more of a compote. I intend to use it with meats, though it could also be used as jam is normally deployed (spread on toast, etc).

I have to confess, I don’t really like jam.Not having much of a sweet tooth, it’s just not my thing. Maybe this year will change me. I started with about 2 kilograms of damsons, and I still haven’t even dented the harvest.

Black Currant Jam

black currant jam
This weekend we picked the last of the black currants. It seems the best method of picking and the time-consuming ‘topping and tailing’ of the berries is to let your mother-in-law do most of the work. We ended up with about four pounds of them. While she worked I offered encouragement, assuming that negative reinforcement wouldn’t work in a family situation. I joke; I helped. I did get tired of the topping and tailing though. This would be a really easy task with a bunch of people and some good gossip. Proof that preserving deserves a party.
The jam was violently red while boiling away, and then turned a satisfying black.
  • 1.8 kg (4 lbs) blackcurrants
  • 2 ½ cups white sugar
  • pint or so of water


  • large, heavy-bottomed pan
  • 6 jam jars
  • cookie sheet
  • ladle or jam funnel

Decant blackcurrants into a heavy-bottomed pan that will allow for evaporation. Add water to about half the level of the berries; they will cook down. Add sugar. Cook whole business down until it is pretty thick—we left a little bit of syrup so that the fruit would have a little suspension. In the meantime, wash jars and lids in soapy water. Sterilize the lids by dipping them in boiling water and allowing them to air dry. Sterilize the jars by placing them (opening up) on a cookie sheet covered in paper towels, and allowing to dry in an oven set to 160°C / 320°F.

black currant jam jar

When the jam is at a consistency that you’re happy with—highly reduced but still wet—carefully spoon it into the sterilized jars, making sure that there are no air bubbles among the fruit. Put on their lids and allow them to cool. As they cool, they will vacuum seal. If you have any doubt at all when you open the jars months later, or if they smell at all odd, throw it away! There’s no shame. There is shame in killing yourself by jam though.

Make sure to bring some jam to work to share and brag about, omitting any mention of how easy this is.

Cloudy Apple Juice

What you will need:

  • a stock pot
  • a lot of apples
  • a jelly bag, muslin, or a pillow case
  • a funnel
  • bottles


  • apples
  • maybe a little bit of sugar, but probably not
  • other flavorings as desired: ginger, cinnamon, etc.

cloudy apple juiceIn light of the apple harvest, I thought I might make some apple juice for Tambo’s lunchbox. In the interest of not making life too difficult for myself, I decided to make straight-to-the-fridge apple juice, so that I wouldn’t have to bust my hump sterilizing jars and whatnot. A stock pot’s worth of apples made about 4 liters of juice, which I anticipate we will drink pretty quickly, hence the no-fuss methodology.

Like a fool, I didn’t weigh the apples I used for this, though chopped they filled a large stock pot. I didn’t bother peeling them–just chopped off the tops and bottoms, quartered them, and in they went. I added enough water to cover 3/4 of them, and let this burble away for about 45 minutes, then came at it with a potato masher. Once you’ve got a nice amount of wet pulp comes the fun/arduous part, depending on what sort of person you are, since it has to be strained through a jelly bag, helped along by you squeezing. Sterilize the jelly bag by pouring boiling water through it first; if you don’t have a jelly bag a bit of muslin or a pillowcase, even, will do, though you have to find a way to rig it up (my jelly bag has ready-made loops, through which I stick large wooden spoons, suspending it over a pot via the use of carefully-placed chairs). Alternatively, you could sit it in a strainer over a pot, I suppose, and let it drip and squeeze.

apple juice

So through the jelly bag went the pulp. I let it drip on its own while I did other things, but had to return to it to squeeze. This was like milking something. I squeezed and squeezed until I could get as much juice as I could out of the pulp, and was left with a beautiful, thick, cloudy liquid, which I returned to the first pot to heat while I added a really minimal amount of sugar to it (whether or not you need to add sugar will depend on what kind of apples you use, or what type of taste buds you have. For my 4 liters of juice, I only added about 3/4 of a cup of sugar. The usual admonitions apply: add a tiny bit of sugar, taste; tiny bit more; taste, etc. One can always add but not subtract, my friends.) While heating it you could add other things to it, maybe some slices of fresh ginger, or a bit of cinnamon–this batch was pure as the driven apple, though.

Out came the funnel, and into the bottles went the still-warm juice. I used bottles that I’ve had lying around, nothing fancy or new. If you were preserving this juice, all scrupulosity would apply, and new lids would have to be purchased, bottles sterilized, heat treatment, etc etc. Our fridge juice though, Bob’s your uncle.

Nigvziani Badrijani


One night when Meg first got here, she cooked Tambo and I a big Georgian meal, the precursor to which was Nigvziani Badrijani (ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით). She warned us that if we tried to eat too many we’d feel uncomfortably stuffed, but Tambo ignored her, had five, and was uncomfortably stuffed. He doesn’t mind though.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 eggplants/aubergines
  • A little bit of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups ground walnuts (get out the mortar and pestle, or the food processor if you’re modern)
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro/coriander
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed (use mortar and pestle again, or garlic crusher if fancy)
  • A few tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • salt to tasteFirst, slice the eggplants lengthwise thinly; about 1/8 inch (3mm) thin. Fry thes slices in some olive oil (be generous with the oil, they’ll soak up a lot) until brown and set aside to cool.Next, mix walnut, cilantro (coriander leaf) and garlic with enough mayonnaise to bind it.

    Then, roll eggplant slices with a layer of filling shmeared within. Serve to party guests, issuing the standard warning that they are as filling as they are delicious.

    A few days later, with lots of eggplant and walnuts left over, we made a salad version of this. Sautée roughly-chopped eggplant and allow to cool. Then mix as above with remaining ingredients.

Apple and Rose Hip Jelly

rose hip jelly When I was young we used to go to the beach in Long Island, and towards the end of summer you’d see people in the dunes among the beach roses, gathering their hips (the roses’, not the people’s). Somehow I came to understand—I’m not sure how— that they were gathering the hips to make jam, and spent many years myself wanting to collect rose hips and do the same. When we lived in Leith there was an enormous abundance of them growing along the river path—unfortunately, the largest bunch, with big, inviting bushels of hips like tomatoes asking to be picked—were at a part of the path that we called dog sh*t alley, just far enough in from the road that the lazy (and the lazy are always the ones with the biggest dogs, it seems), would allow their dogs the morning newspaper-read among the roses. Needless to say, I had no desire to make jam out of anything there.

Here, however, we have an enormous abundance of the same sort of roses that the beach people collected in Long Island, called rosa rugosa, known in Britain as the Japanese rose. After they bloom they come out in big, ripe rose hips. Considering our new preserving hobby, I thought I’d try to make something with them.


  • apples, 2 lbs
  • rose hips, a quart
  • water, enough to cover the fruit in the pan
  • sugar—sorry to do this to you—to taste (at least a few cups worth; common preserves wisdom is a pound of sugar for every pint of pulp/liquid, though you may, like me, prefer less)
  • something for color if you’d like; I used a few blackcurrants.


  • heavy-bottomed pot
  • cookie sheet
  • tongs
  • wooden spoon
  • jelly bag
  • jam jars
  • funnel

This makes about 3 jam jars worth of jelly.

 Olive-inspects-the-harvestI picked some of the hips (here is the inspector inspecting them) and some of the riper-looking apples that we have now hanging on the trees. I cut off the rose hips’ stems and the bit where the hip had been, at one point, connected to a flower, then cut them in half and, since I have a perfect tiny little spoon, scooped out their hairy, seedy insides so that I didn’t have to deal with them at some later point. I warn you; this is not fun— they have a lot of hairy little seeds in them.

rose hipsInto the pan went the rose hips and the apples, which I cut up fairly roughly, including their cores, which hold the magical pectin (which makes these things set). Also into the pot went four solitary blackcurrants to make a pink color. You could experiment a bit with this, or, if you don’t have any other fruit around that you think might make for a nice bit of color, just submit to the pale, but still pretty, color of apples and rose hips on their own.


After the fruit in the pan had cooked down, maybe 25 minutes to a half hour, I strained it through a jelly bag (which I had first poured hot water through, to sterlize) suspended above a large bowl, and left it to sit for a few hours until all of the liquid had dripped through. You are warned not to squeeze the jelly bag, much as you might want to, since it will make the resultant jelly cloudy. Just let it drip and go about your business. For a large batch this might take 12 hours. So go get some sleep already.

After you are confident that you’ve gotten all that you could get out of the jelly bag, return the liquid to the pan cook down. This might take a little while. Add sugar to taste.* As the liquid starts to really reduce, you will get something that looks like nascent jelly—really viscous. Keep an eagle eye and keep stirring until it looks pretty thick, and then pour it into sterlized jars*. Screw on the lids and allow to cool. When you return, you will have perfectly jelled pots of jelly.

If you’d like more information on the technical aspects of preserving, there are lots of resources for you—here you’ll find the handy list of resources at Canning Across America, and here you’ll find the USDA’s advice on home preserving. Take heart, it is easier than it seems at first glance. Please email with any questions or suggestions. If the preserving bit seems like too much for you, you can always make jam/jelly and put it straight into the refrigerator for your immediate use, and dispense with all the extra fuss and equipment.


The newest member of my family is a cherry-red blender. In order to justify its purchase, I’ve been blending things at a monstrous clip.

Last year I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Spain, and while I was there, I bought a liter of store-bought gazpacho nearly every day. Since I’ve bagged Spain for Queens, I knew I had to make provision for my own supply.

I bought some tomatoes the other day to feed my beautiful new little friend. For the second time in a few months, the first being when Chris Engel came to visit with a bakewell tart and the F train nearly turned his cream into butter, the IND (the B train, to be precise) had a hand in our food preparation. Heroically I threw myself onto the train as the doors were closing (I have a long commute). The doors closed on me and my tomatoes. Ha ha, joke’s on you, B train, I thought, I’m making gazpacho. Squish all you want, you’re not as good as my little red blender.

For gazpacho you’ll need (this made about a quart and a half):

  • 6 tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/4 large red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or to taste
  • A lashing or two of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup or so breadcrumbs
  • Salt to taste

Start by boiling some water and submerging the tomatoes in them for a minute to make them easier to peel. Once they’ve cooled marvel at how their skin bags off like they were molting. Remove the seeds and deposit the tomatoes in the blender. Chop the cucumber and onion roughly and add to the blender with grated garlic, vinegar, oil, breadcrumbs, and some salt. Blend. Adjust seasoning.  Serve in a little bowl or do what I do, drink it out of a glass like you have no time for spoons.  This made enough for a little snack for four.

Vegetarian Lasagna – soybeans, tomatoes, cheese and spices

Serving 4 persons

Lasagna Pasta, lasagna and I used pre-cooked “no boil lasagna” and must not boil, just soak it in warm water

  • 3 plum tomatoes – good and red madurito
  • 2 cups cooked soybeans
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese – ralladito
  • Sprig of fresh cilantro
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • 1 / 4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used sea salt)

Soybeans : Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried soy beans – from the smallest
  • 2 cups vegetable stock – use two cubes of vegetable concentrates
  • 1 cup tomato puree – or replaced with spicy Italian sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Sofrito – 2 tablespoons
  • bell pepper – diced 1 large
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt to taste or 1 / 2 teaspoon adobo



In a pan fry in olive oil, the sauce, onion and garlic and then add the broth with soy and simmer for 10 minutes to absorb the dried bean soup while you add the tomato sauce, marinade, the cilantro and peppers. Let simmer 15 minutes stirring. Once cooked the stew, turn off heat and add the basil leaves for flavor with the remaining vapor.


The paste is used as pre-cooked pasta but you can use a regular lasagna. I put just a little soak in warm salt water and was ready to put in layers. If you use a regular, follow the process of boiling it longer. Use a square pan and wet with a little olive oil on the bottom. Then put a layer of lasagna pasta around the mold first vertically and then horizontally. Now place a flat soy cheese then mozzarella, parmesan, pasta and another up at the top end with lots of cheese, tomatoes, a little olive oil, parsley and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes covered with foil and then 8 minutes without cover to brown the cheese.


Yellow Zucchini Pizza with tomatoes on whole wheat crust

Ingredients: Filling:

• 4 ripe plum tomatoes

• 1 chopped green pepper

• 3 green onions

• 1 / 2 red onion

• 3 yellow squash

• Olive oil – 4 tbsp

• Sprig of fresh basil

• 3 cloves garlic

• 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• 1 cup mozzarella cheese

• pinch of pepper

• salt to taste


Wheat crust pizza “pizza dough”


• 5 1 / 2 cup whole wheat flour (the more natural it gets)

• 3 teaspoons brown sugar

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 package dry yeast in polka “dry yeast”

• 1 / 2 cup milk

• 1 / 4 cup butter

• 1 1 / 2 cup warm water


To mix the dough, I used the bread maker “bread machine” but dough cycle. The mixing machine faster and better. You do not need the machine to make pizza dough. Can join the hand, then knead it, though it requires more time and effort.

Step 1 – In a bowl place the flour with salt, sugar and yeast.

Step 2 – In another bowl place the water, milk and butter and heat just a little. Then pour it with flour.

Step 3 – Mix the dough and make a ball as shown. To knead, you should sprinkle dry flour on the table where it will make the whole process. The dough should be very compact, as it is comprehensive and takes longer than processed white flour.

Step 4 – I used a wooden rolling pin to thin it more. (See illustration). Then flatten with a rolling pin, put it on a large pizza pan with your hands stretched uniformemente.debe I look good thin. So it is dough.

Step 5 – Proceed to first pour the olive oil with crushed garlic in the bottom and then all the other ingredients.

Step 6 – Add the tomatoes, zucchini, red onion, scallions, peppers and the pizza must end with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. The fresh basil leaves and pepper on top is the ultimate.

Step 7 – Place for 25 minutes at 375 º in oven


Dear Austin

Dear Austin, Please do not burn down. I have big plans for us.  Dear Austin Bloggers, I love you already and am proud to have been welcomed into your little group. Dear City I Adore, Please have your way with my husband while we are apart. I expect him to be madly in love by the time I get there. Dear New Home, I know we haven’t found each other yet, but please save yourself for me. I know many are homeless as of late and they should get first dibs….but second dibs.. CALLED IT. Dear Austinites, I have some openings. See below:

Personal Navigator:
I will be lost on a regular basis (read: every time I leave the house) and my gps is rude and tends to yell when I don’t follow directions. Plus it thinks it knows more than it actually does. Required: Endless patience and keen sense of where I might be even if I can’t tell you.

Restaurant Concierge:
I am actually moving just so I never have to eat at applebees again. I’m not kidding. At least not about the never eating at applebees again. I need someone to tell me what I am in the mood for, the best place to get it, and what they would order. It would be even better if you would just come with me. My personal navigator will probably be ready for a break, so you should just pick me up. Required: Mind reading abilities and must be a bit snobby about food.

Mildly Competitive Exercise Partner:
I plan to explore Austin with a fork in one hand and so I’m guessing my running shoes should be in the other. I need someone who is only slightly better in shape than me so my competitive nature will kick in but I won’t hate you before we even start. You should be nice, too. That way when I don’t feel like preventing (more….I am thirty and did incubate four humans) jiggle for me, I still care enough about you to show up. Required:Obliviousness to my lack of coordination and incessant complaining about being hot.

Model/Tour Guide:
I have a camera. I’m good with it. It use to make me lots of money. We are coming around to each other again. I’d like to spend sometime with it in some cool places. Unfortunately my kids aren’t on speaking terms with said camera or the mama who gets a bit crazy only when her own children are in front of it and act like they have never had a single picture taken (or maybe the opposite is the problem). And I haven’t discovered all the magical places yet. So I have some openings. Requirement: Creative/beautiful location and a willingness to gush about how the photographs I take of your children make you forget about all the crap they break and your stretch marks. Lots of gushing. And showing your friends.

Pew Partner:
We need a church. And in order for it to feel like my church, I need the buzz of a crowd and the intimacy of friends. So I need someone to sit next to me and help me avoid all that stranger danger that occurs during the {greet-one-another} time. Required: Church without pews (probably) and willingness to talk for hours till we know more of each other’s stories than not.

Local Fearless Partner in Crime:
I will complicate your life. But I’ll also let you in on my kitchen creations, read your favorite books, grocery shop with you at midnight, and love your kids. I’ll pack you a picnic, listen to you complain about your mother in law and make you dinner when life is overwhelming. Required: Ability to be easily excited when I say I have a plan. Must be messy, have baggage, and need to be loved.

Steiner Ranch Steakhouse

5424 Steiner Ranch Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78732
Phone: (512) 381-0800
Website: www.steinersteakhouse.com
Hours: Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-11 p.m.

Perched high upon a hilltop at the front of the Steiner Ranch neighborhood is Steiner Ranch Steakhouse. This spot is a multi-leveled eatery with a clubby ranch meets Austin modern feel.  The numerous, generous rock decks offer lots of room for musical performers and amazing vistas of the Hill Country and Lake Travis.

It would be simple to dismiss Steiner Ranch Steakhouse on the assumption that its patios and best-of-the-city views substitute for quality food.  But such an assumption would seriously underestimate the delicious meals being served out of Steiner Ranch Steakhouse’s kitchen.

We visited on a Sunday afternoon, greeted by a sunny patio that provided seriously stunning views of Lake Travis.  As we were seated, Drew Womack played guitar and sang favorites from the likes of James Taylor and Steve Miller Band.  We grabbed mimosas and checked out the menu.

One thing we noticed immediately and consistently throughout our meal was the impeccable, friendly service.   Every person we encountered from the hostesses to our waitress to employees merely acknowledging us in passing were extremely friendly and helpful, lending a welcoming charm.

We started off our meal with two appetizers–the Buffalo Quail Legs and the elk toronadas.  The toronadas featured tender grilled elk slices atop crispy Asiago cheese crostini with pico de gallo.  The elk was perfectly prepared, smoky and tender, and the creamy sauce and zesty pico were the perfect complement to the elk.

The Buffalo Quail Legs were also delicious. The sauce was a smoky mingling of barbecue and buffalo sauces, with hints of roasted garlic. The batter on the legs was so delicate as to almost appear grilled, and the smoky sauce was the perfect off the gaminess of the quail. The smoky-sweet sauce was further complemented by a stout, creamy gorgonzola dip. As we finished up our appetizers, we were treated to a multi-song performance by an operatic duo.

Our party also grabbed a couple of salads. The Caesar was fresh and crispy, with a salty anchovy resting atop and a tart, creamy dressing.

The wedge salad was scattered with tomato, green onions, applewood bacon, and Gorgonzola crumbles. The salad was finished with a creamy blue cheese dressing. Both salads were remarkably fresh and crispy and very large (definitely large enough to share).

We next sampled three entrees. First up was the chicken fried Denver elk. The elk was carefully tenderized, then lightly battered and fried. The elk was covered with a surprisingly light gravy with hints of red and black peppers. The elk was paired with a generous portion of skin-on mashed potatoes that were creamy and rustic. The plate was finished with asparagus, which was a bit on the undercooked side, but the elk and potatoes were so massive and delicious, that we did not miss the asparagus anyway.

One person in our group opted to sample the kabobs from the appetizer menu as an entree. The kabobs on our visit featured skin-on grilled mahi mahi medallions, paired with red bell pepper and onion slices, and mushrooms. The kabobs were grilled just to done, and dusted with zesty seasoning.

We grabbed one side for the table (which we really did not need, in light of the huge entree portions). We opted for the lobster mac and cheese (again, a surprisingly generous portion), which arrived bubbling in a skillet. The penne pasta soaked in a peppery cheese sauce, and was coated with ample amounts of grilled cheese atop the dish. Throughout the pasta were huge chunks of succulent lobster. This side was filling and large enough to serve as an entree in its own right, and was downright delicious.

Finally, we tried the Austin Ribeye, a 10 oz. cut that was prepared to a perfect medium rare. The Steiner Ranch ribeye was topped with an herbed butter with shallots and chives. The steak was seasoned with restraint, letting the meat stand on its own. The steak was paired with the same mashed potatoes and asparagus that came with the elk.

We left Steiner Ranch Steakhouse wondering why it had taken so long for us to seek out this spot. Between the amazing views, delicious food, and welcoming atmosphere, Steiner Ranch Steakhouse is the type of place you want to make your go-to special meal spot. We will definitely be returning.