Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Berry-Mint Lemonade 0

Posted on June 22, 2015 by Sahar

I love a good glass of lemonade.  Real lemonade. Not the powdered stuff.

And, with summer lasting about 8 months in Texas, it’s almost a necessary staple, along with water, iced tea, and beer, to power through the heat.

The basic lemonade recipe consists of three things: lemon juice, water, sugar.  The flavor all depends on how you personally prefer it – sweet or tart.  Personally, I like it more on the tart side.

Of course, since it is such a basic recipe, it leaves lots of room for interpretation and experimentation.  You can add just about any herb or spice that goes well with lemon – mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, ginger, pepper – for example; or, even add other fruits or juices to the mix – the list on that is pretty much endless.

My personal favorite is probably one of the more obvious ones – mint and berries. I think it’s because during the summer, when berries are truly in season, I like to find as many ways possible as I can to use them.  And, mint is a natural affinity flavor for lemons and berries.  It’s a win-win.

So, here is my recipe for Berry-Mint Lemonade.

A few notes:

1.  Yes. I have used lemon juice from the green plastic bottle. I know fresh squeezed is better, but I don’t always have a bottle of the fresh-squeezed juice around.  If you really want fresh squeezed and don’t have any or can’t find it, you can either squeeze it yourself (a pricy and time consuming prospect), or just go for the green bottle. It’s fine and most people won’t know the difference. I will say the one distinct added plus to the green bottle lemon juice is that the flavor is consistent.  Fresh lemons can vary in tartness and yield.

2.  You can use all of one berry in this if you like.  I just always happen to have a large container of cut berries in my fridge during the summer as Husband Steve’s & my go-to fruit.  Bear in mind, however, that the color and overall flavors will definitely change.  As it is with anything completely natural, there are always going to be differences in flavor – either more sweet or tart.

3.  You can use either white or raw sugar in this.  I prefer the raw because it’s a little less sweet than the white.

4.  If you don’t like or don’t have mint, you can use another herb in this.  Most herbs & spices that go with lemon work well with berries, too. You may want to experiment on the amount you want to use. Some are definitely stronger than others (i.e. rosemary, ginger, oregano), so you want to be sure what you’re using won’t overpower the other flavors.



The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. sugar (either raw or white)

1 c. water

1/4 c. lightly packed mint leaves

2 heaping cups mixed berries

1 1/4 c. lemon juice

3 c. water


1.  In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar over high heat.  Stir frequently to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

The simple syrup.  Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar.  A simple syrup made with white sugar will be clear.

The simple syrup. Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar. A simple syrup made with white sugar will be completely clear.

Bring the syrup just to a boil, take the saucepan off the heat, and add the mint leaves.  Allow the mint to steep in the syrup until it has cooled, about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours.

Adding the mint.

Adding the mint to steep.

2.  Meanwhile, puree the berries.  With a food processor running, drop the berries either through the feed tube. (Adding the berries in while the machine is running guarantees that all of the berries will be pureed.  You won’t be left with any large pieces.)

Adding the berries to the food processor.  I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

Adding the berries to the food processor. I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.


Let the berries process until they are pureed.

The pureeing the berries.

The pureeing the berries.

Place a small strainer over a large measuring cup (at least a 4-cup), large bowl, or a pitcher.  Pour half of the pureed berries through the strainer and, with a rubber spatula, work as much of the liquid out of the pulp through the strainer as possible, leaving behind the seeds and pulp. Be sure to scrape the outside bottom and sides of the strainer. Dump the leftover seeds and pulp into a small bowl and repeat with the other half.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don't confuse the two.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don’t confuse the two.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

If you like, take the remaining seeds and pulp, put them back into the blender or food processor and puree again.  You’ll be surprised how much more liquid you can get out of them. (If you are fine with a more “country style” lemonade, you can skip this step and simply pour the pureed fruit into the pitcher without straining.)

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries.  I generally just put this in the compost.

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries. I generally just put this in the compost.

3.  Once the syrup is cooled, pour the syrup through the strainer so it can catch the mint.

Straining the syrup.

Straining the syrup.

I like to leave the strainer on so I can pour the lemon juice and water over the mint as well. This way, you can get as much flavor out of the mint as possible. Mix thoroughly.

Lemon juice.

Lemon juice.



4.  Place the lemonade in the refrigerator and let chill.  Mix it again before checking for flavor.


Lemonade.  This also makes a great mixer, by the way.




Classic Raspberry Jam 0

Posted on June 25, 2013 by Sahar

Of course, with summer here, I’m in high jam-making mode.  There are few better ways to keep summer produce all year.

This time, it’s raspberry’s turn.

A few tips:

1.  Always pick ripe raspberries. They should be plump and deeply colored.  Any white spots indicate they were picked too soon.

2.  Inspect the packages.  They should be free of moisture, mold, and any stains. (Any of these will indicate spoilage.)

3.  Carefully pick through them and discard any that appear to have mold.

4.  Pick raspberries that are actually in season.  In Texas, the season is from peak season is June – September.  Buying raspberries off-season grown in South America doesn’t count.

5.  I like to keep the seeds in the jam.  It adds character. However, if you’d like to take the seeds out, press the raspberries through a strainer before adding to the saucepan.

For the complete hows & whys of canning, please read my blog post from August 10, 2012, Classic Strawberry Jam.

Now, to the recipe.


The ingredients

The ingredients

Beautiful raspberries

Beautiful raspberries

9 c. raspberries (approximately 8 dry pints [6-oz packages])

6 tbsp. powdered pectin

2 tbsp. lemon juice

6 c. sugar


1.  Carefully clean and pick through the raspberries.

I ate these.

I ate these.

2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Stir until the pectin is dissolved.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It's a completely unnecessary step.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It’s a completely unnecessary step.

3.  Heat the berry mixture over medium heat. The berries will break down as they cook.

Cooking down the berries.

Cooking down the berries.

While stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.

4.  Add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

Again, while stirring frequently, bring the jam to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

The rolling boil.

The rolling boil.

5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  With a spoon, carefully skim the foam from the top of the jam.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

6.  Carefully ladle the jam into 4-oz or half-pint jars, leaving 1/4″ head space.

The ever-messy canning process.

The ever-messy canning process.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don't forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don’t forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.








A Pie Primer 0

Posted on May 15, 2012 by Sahar

Pie. Something everyone seems to love. They can be sweet or savory. Snack, main meal, or dessert.  And, I have no doubt many of us have eaten pie for breakfast more than once. Especially during the holidays.

Pie in form or another has been around for millennia.  The original pies had crusts that were several inches thick that were simply used as cooking vessels.  The crusts weren’t actually eaten.  Historians say that the roots of pie can be traced back to the Egyptians of the Neolithic Period, around 9500BCE.  These early forms of pies were essentially free-form made with oat, wheat, rye, barley, and filled with honey baked over hot coals.

The first pies were called “coffins”, meaning basket or box.  They were savory meat pies with tall, straight-sided sides with tops and bottoms.  Open crust pies were known as “traps”.  These were baked more like what we now know as a casserole and were made with meats and sauce.  Again, the crust itself was the cooking vessel and was inedible.  A tradition of these early pies was carried on by the Greeks. Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry. The pies during this period were made by a flour-water paste wrapped around meat; this served to cook the meat and seal in the juices.

The Romans, sampling the delicacy, carried home recipes for making it (a prize of victory from a conquered Greece). The wealthy and educated Romans used various types of meat in every course of the meal, including the dessert course. According to historical records, oysters, mussels, lampreys, and other meats and fish were normal in Roman puddings. It is thought that the puddings were a lot like pies.

English women were baking pies long before the settlers came to America. Pie was an English specialty that was unrivaled in the rest of Europe. Two early examples of the English meat pies were shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Shepherd’s pie was made with lamb and vegetables, and the cottage pie was made with beef and vegetable. Both are topped with potatoes.

The Pilgrims brought their favorite family pie recipes with them to America. The colonist and their pies adapted simultaneously to the ingredients and techniques available to them in the New World. At first, they baked pie with berries and fruits pointed out to them by the Native Americans. Colonial women used round pans literally to cut corners and stretch the ingredients (for the same reason they baked shallow pies).

Pioneer women often served pies with every meal, thus firmly cementing this pastry into a unique form of American culture. With food at the heart of gatherings and celebrations, pie quickly moved to the forefront of contests at county fairs, picnics, and other social events. As settlers moved westward, American regional pies developed. Pies are continually being adapted to changing conditions and ingredients.

(Some historical information from


A few notes on making pie crust: Pie crusts are fundamentally easy to make.  However, they are also one of the most seemingly complicated recipes to master.  There are so many things that could keep you from pie crust success: overworking the dough, a crust that shrinks when baked, a crust that isn’t flaky.

Pie dough, for the most part, if your treat it right, is quite forgiving.  If it tears, it’s easily patched.  You can trim it and add to places that don’t have enough dough (especially for the rim of the crust).  If the crust gets soft while you roll it, you can wrap it and place it back in the refrigerator to rest.  It’s easily frozen.

There are just a few rules to follow when starting a crust:

1.  Make sure the fat you use (lard, shortening, butter) is cold. The reason for this is that the fat doesn’t melt when you work it into the dry ingredients.

2. Use ice water.  This will also keep the fat from melting.  However, don’t use too much because your dough can become tough.  Too little, the dough won’t hold together.

3.  Don’t overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough, you’ll develop the gluten (fine for bread, not for pastry).

4.  Give the dough adequate rest time.  This allows the gluten proteins to rest and the moisture to distribute evenly in the dough.

5.  When you make the dough, you want to see bits of fat and keep it as cold as possible until you put in the oven.  As the crust bakes, the fat melts and creates steam.  The steam in the dough is what creates the flaky crust.


There will be more tips as you go through the recipe.


Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Crust


The Ingredients



2 2/3 c. (12 oz.) all purpose flour (the best flour for pie crusts)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/2 lb. ( 2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into approximately 1/2″ pieces

5 – 8 tbsp. ice water, as needed



7 c. fresh washed berries (you can use any mix of berries you like, or just one berry)


3 bags frozen mixed berries (ditto.)

3 tbsp. cornstarch

3 tbsp. tapioca


6 tbsp. tapioca flour

1 1/4 c. sugar

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg


1/2 tsp. cinnamon


1 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp. water


1.  Make the crust:  If you are making the crust by hand, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl

Weighing the flour.


Add the butter and press it between your fingers into the flour.  You want to have little disks of butter.  Add in just enough ice water (about 5 tablespoons to start) and carefully toss the ingredients together.  You want the dough to just come together when you press it in your hand.  If the dough is dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together.

If you’re using a food processor (as I did for this recipe), pulse together the dry ingredients:

Dry ingredients pulsed together


Add the butter:

Butter ready to be incorporated into the flour


Do 2 or 3 quick pulses to break down the pieces of butter and begin incorporating it into the dry ingredients:

Butter & Flour after pulsing


You want to have pieces of butter visible.  This is what helps make the crust flaky:

The pieces of butter in the flour.


Add 5 tablespoons of the water and do a few more quick pulses.  Add more water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Again, you just want the mixture to come together:

After the water has been added


The dough just coming together after being squeezed in my hand


2.  Separate the dough into two equal pieces.  I like to weigh the dough so I’ll get the disks as even as possible:

Weighing the dough


Press the dough into disk shapes and wrap them tightly in plastic:

The dough ready for the refrigerator. Notice the pieces of butter in the dough. This is what you want to see.


Place the dough in the refrigerator and let it rest for at least 2 hours.


3.  Meanwhile, make the filling. (If you are using fresh berries, do this just before you roll out the crust; if you’re using frozen, do this about an hour before rolling out the dough.)

In a large bowl. toss the berries with the cornstarch, tapioca, sugar, ginger and nutmeg.

The berries and spices, etc. ready to mix


Berries after mixing. Now, let them sit. Stir occasionally.


Set the berries aside and let them macerate. Be sure to stir the berries occasionally so the dry ingredients are distributed evenly.  The have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the bowl otherwise.

4.  Remove one of the disks of dough from the oven and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to warm and soften slightly.  (You want the dough to be firm when you roll it out, but not rock-hard.)

Unwrap the dough and lay one disk on a lightly floured surface.  If you like, you can place a piece of plastic or wax paper over the top of the dough as well.

Getting ready to roll the dough


5.  Roll out the dough starting at the 12 o’clock position.  Roll away from you and then back towards you at 6 o’clock.

Rolling the dough.


Rotate the dough 1/4 turn.  Repeat.  By doing this, you’re making sure the dough doesn’t stick at the bottom (lightly flour if necessary) and you’ll roll out the dough more evenly.

Picking up the dough and rotating it 1/4 turn as I'm rolling


Be sure to apply equal pressure over the whole surface of the dough to keep as even a thickness as possible.  Just roll up to the edge of the dough, not over.

Rolling the dough.


Still turning the dough 1/4 turn after each pass with the rolling pin. This will also help you better gauge if you need any more flour as you roll. If you add too much, the dough can become dry and tough.


6.  Remove the plastic or wax paper (if using) from the top of your dough.  Place your pie plate upside down in the center of the dough to measure it’s diameter.  Ideally, you want the dough to extend out at least 3 inches on all sides.

Measuring the rolled dough. It's about 1/8" thickness at this point


Take the pie plate off the dough and set aside.

Very lightly flour the top of the dough.  Take the rolling pin from one end and begin to carefully to roll the dough around the pin:

Rolling the dough over the pin.


Take the pin to the pie plate, hold it over one side and carefully unwrap the dough by again rolling the pin across of the top of the pie plate. (Don’t press down on the edge of the plate.  You’ll run the risk of cutting the dough.)

Transferring the crust into the pie plate


7.  Start shaping the pie dough into the pie plate by lifting the edges and setting the dough into the plate.  Don’t press or stretch the dough.  Not only will it tear, but it will also shrink during baking.

Shaping the dough into the pie plate


Shaping the dough into the pie plate


Pie crust in the pie plate. Ready for the refrigerator.


Once you have the pie crust in the pie plate, trim the outer edges to a 1″ overhang.  Use the scraps to patch any holes or cracks in the dough.  Place the pie plate in the refrigerator to rest as you roll out the second piece of dough.

8.  Unwrap the dough and follow the same rolling instructions from Step 5.

9.  Either by eye (if you can do this, more power to you) or with a ruler (my preferred method), cut 10 strips of dough 3/4″ wide each.

Measuring & cutting the dough for the lattice top


Because I'm terrible at spacial stuff


10.  Mix the berries one more time (and you should’ve been doing this all along anyway), and remove the pie plate from the refrigerator.  Carefully fill the pie plate with the berries and dot the top with the butter.

The berries after a bit of maceration time.


Berries and butter in the crust ready for the lattice top


11.  Lay five strips of dough across the top of the pie, spaced evenly apart.  Be sure there is some overhang off the sides, especially the center.

Beginning the lattice top


Pull back alternating strips of dough and place a piece in the center:

Pulling back alternating strips of dough


Laying the top piece.


Lay the strips back down.  Again, fold alternating strips of dough and lay another strip of dough across.  Do this 3 more times.  Then, you’ll have a lattice top:

The lattice top. Almost finished.


Trim the edges back to a 1″ overhang, tuck the edges back under the rim of the pie crust and crimp the edges as you like.

All shaped, glazed, and ready to go.


Brush the crust with egg wash and, if you like, sprinkle on a little turbinado (raw) sugar or crystal (decorating) sugar.  Place the pie in the refrigerator for an hour or in the freezer for 20 minutes.

12.  Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with foil and place it in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Carefully take the pie out of the refrigerator or freezer and carefully place it on the baking sheet in the oven.  Immediately turn the temperature down to 375F.  Using the preheated baking sheet helps the bottom of the pie seal quickly.

Pie ready for the oven. The foil around the edges of the pie is an option. My oven bakes hot, so I like to use them.


If you like, you can wrap the edges of the pie with some foil to keep the edges of the crust from browning too quickly.  If the top is browning too quickly, you can place a piece of foil, shiny side up, to keep it from over-browning.

Bake the pie for 60-75 minutes.  You want to see juices bubbling from the center, that way you know the pie is cooked through.

By the way, there will be a lot of juices and this pie will be a little messy.  Hence the foil on the baking sheet.

13.  Carefully remove the pie from the oven and let cool for at least 2 hours to let the pie set up.

The finished pie. Notice the lovely juices. Yummy.







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