Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Passing of the Wild Black Raspberry

I especially like black raspberries or blackcaps as my grandma called them. One of the things I loved about staying at my grandparents’ northern Michigan farm in the summers was picking and eating berries, especially blackcaps. Grandma and I would go to the woods to pick blackcaps. Grandpa had a more agricultural approach. He planted a large variety of raspberries - red, black and purple. I liked to help him pick those, too! I don’t know how much they appreciated my help though. I had a tendency to eat a good bit of what I picked.

On our West Virginia farm, I have educated my husband and son to not mow down the berries – black raspberries, blackberries and elderberries. It is to their benefit also, since they like jams, pies and homemade wine.

This has been a good year for berries. I haven’t been able to pick berries for several years, so I was eager to pick the black raspberries around our home. Then I went to look around the neighborhood for more. My husband and son had been telling me that there were lots of berries on the ridge. I was very disappointed that I could hardly find any wild black raspberries other than at home. There were quite a few blackberries waiting to ripen. And there were these weird hairy red brambles, that I didn’t recognize.

My son had picked some strange shiny, sticky raspberries by his cabin last summer, that we never did identify. Well, the black raspberries were almost done and the blackberries were starting to ripen. The guys said there were lots of berries on the ridge and went to pick them. They came back in a short time with at least a gallon of berries - strange shiny, sticky raspberries. Mind you, when I was picking black raspberries, I never did get at least 2 quarts at a time so I could make jam. They told me that there were huge patches of these berries all over the ridge. I was happy to have some raspberries, but worried about what had happened to the wild black raspberries.

It was time to investigate. After some diligent web searching, I was able to identify the strange berries as wineberries. I was also alarmed to discover that they are an invasive pest from Asia. They are displacing native species. With the explosive growth in our neighborhood in the last few years, they have displaced the wild black raspberry. The only reason I was able to pick them this year is because I love them and have encouraged their growth around my home. I can remember huge patches of wild black raspberries thirty years ago, where I could pick gallons over hours. Patches were closely guarded secrets. Now they are nonexistent.

Please check this link for more information:

Chicken Molé Tostadas with Avocado Sauce

This has become a favorite quick Mexican dinner at our house. My DH discovered these bags of corn tostadas at the Dollar Store. Being from Phoenix, he can’t resist buying them. I also found them at Aldi’s. The chicken, molé sauce and avocado sauce can be prepared a day or so ahead of time.

1 lb. Easy Poached Chicken, shredded
1 (15 oz. can) refried beans
1 (12 oz.) bag corn tostadas (use ½ bag ~12)
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheese – jack, Colby or mild cheddar
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 tomato, diced

Mix the shredded chicken with the molé sauce and heat in microwave.
Heat the refried beans in microwave.
Spread some beans on a tostada. Put two tostadas on each large plate.
Sprinkle with molé chicken, cheese, lettuce and tomato.
Top with a good dollop of avocado sauce.
Serve immediately.

Serves 5-6.

Quick Molé Sauce

I developed this very tasty sauce for a quick molé fix.

2 cups water
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon base
2 Tbsp. dark roasted chilies, ground
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 Tbsp. cocoa
½ tsp. oregano, c/s
½ tsp. cinnamon, ground
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
Scant 1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.
Pour into 6 cup microwaveable bowl.
Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir with whisk, scraping sides and bottom of bowl and breaking up any lumps that may have formed.
Microwave for 1 ½ minutes. Repeat stirring with whisk.
Microwave for 1 minute. Repeat stirring.

Use in your favorite recipe. I like to toss it with shredded poached chicken and use in tostadas, enchiladas and burritos.

Yields about 2 cups

Chili Chicken with Avocado Sauce

Serves 4

2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
4 (1 – 1 1/2 lb.) boneless skinless chicken breasts

Heat iron skillet until hot and dry. Remove from heat and lightly coat with vegetable oil spray. Return to very low heat while preparing chicken breasts.

Combine chili powder and cumin. Sprinkle chicken with salt and coat with spices.

Brown chicken breasts in seasoned skillet, 2 minutes on each side. Cover, lower heat and cook until just done, about 5 more minutes.

Put chicken on plates and cover with avocado sauce.

To Die For Avocado Sauce

This spring I got a great buy on some discounted Greek yogurt at Kroger. Anytime avocadoes are less than $.69 each, I usually buy several. I was getting tired of the usual guacamole and was experimenting with different sauces. I found an 11 year old recipe in my file for Chili Chicken with Avocado Sauce. I think it came from Recipezaar, which has now turned into Food.com. The original recipe is still available on the web from several sources, but none state the origin.

I adapted my avocado sauce from this recipe. I am just incapable of following a recipe exactly, and that’s really how we should all cook - use a recipe as a base and adapt it to the ingredients and methods available. This sauce is cool, smooth and creamy, a bit tart and spicy, with a hint of bitterness - a wonderful blend of flavor, texture and temperature.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in my previous avocado recipes, but I learned a new trick from Alton Brown last year on how to remove the pit from an avocado. After slicing it lengthwise, give it a twist and the halves pop apart. Whack the pit with the blade of a fairly large knife, embedding it somewhat in the pit. Twist the knife and the pit will come right out! Then whack the pit against a cutting board to loosen it from the knife. Make three lengthwise cuts on each half. The skin will fold back and four slices will peel off easily. Slice or dice as needed. Sprinkle with lemon or lime juice to keep from browning, if you will not be using them immediately.

When I made it with Greek yogurt, I added a bit of water to bring it to a looser, saucy consistency. I didn’t need to add water when using Dannon non-fat plain yogurt.

If you have fresh cilantro, use a tablespoon of it in place of the cominos. A dash of chipotle or jalapeño hot sauce will spice it up.

1 lg. avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 c. non-fat plain yogurt
2 tsp. lime juice
1 tsp. cominos (Ground cumin seed)
Dash of salt
Dash of garlic granules or powder or juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix until smooth. Pour over your favorite dish.

Yields about 1 cup

This is a fresh sauce, not for heating. Unlike guacamole, this avocado sauce keeps well in the refrigerator without browning due to the acid content of the yogurt and lime juice.

Now, how to use it? The original use with Chili Chicken Breasts is excellent. I also use this sauce on poached and shredded chicken. It is fabulous on chicken tostadas. Use your imagination! I crave this sauce. I think it could be addictive.