Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A day late and a dollar short.

I'm not good with deadlines. Especially when it's for something that I consider a hobby. I really wanted to participate in two recent blog events, SFH #27 Chocolate by Brand and Waiter, there's something in my...Stew but I failed to make it happen. The sad part is, I made the food and took the photos but when it was time to write it up, the pull of Sam snuggled under two down comforters was too strong. These recipes deserve to be shared, though , so here they are.
Hedonistic Fudgies -
Once you've had these, you will be able to retire all other chocolate cookie recipes. I fed these to several coworkers and friends and comments ranged from "awesome cookies", "all the best parts of brownies" and "those are the richest cookies ever".

2 c. chocolate chips
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/4 c. butter
4 eggs
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 c. chocolate chips

Melt chocolate and butter together. Mix eggs, sugar and vanilla until just combined. Stir together dry ingredients. When chocolate is melted, stir in egg mixture. Add dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Scoop onto cookie sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. Timing is important here. This batter cannot really sit or you will not get the pretty crackly crust you see in the picture. If you only have one cookie sheet, you might want to halve the recipe so you can bake them all at the same time recipe. I used a commercial oven and large sheet trays for these. As for baking, do not overcook these. The edges should be set but they should be pretty soft in the middle when you take them out of the oven. They will set quite a bit upon cooling and you definitely do not want to miss out on biting into the perfect mix of crisp edge and squigy middle with melted chips. Have a big glass of milk at the ready and a plan for how you are to dispose of the extras. I ate one in the car on my way to work and then gave the rest away. They are too dangerous to have around!

Clamizo Stew- I hardly ever make up recipes and when I do, they are rarely worth repeating. This stew is an exception and a good example of how sometimes simple is best.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2-4 leeks, chopped (white parts only)
Spanish Chorizo, chopped in small dice (I used 1/2 of a U-shaped link)
6 medium potatoes (I used the purple vikings and I thought the potatoes would just bulk it up but they were actually my favorite part)
51 0z. can chopped clams
28 oz. can Muir Glen Fire-Roasted tomatoes (diced)

Saute leeks in oil. Add the chorizo and fry until starting to crisp (3 minutes) Add the potatoes, clams and tomatoes and cook on medium until the potatoes are tender. Serve with warm, crusty bread. I know this may sound like a weird combo of ingredients but it just works. The smokiness of the chorizo is echoed in the fire-roasted tomatoes and the whole is definitely equal to more than the sum of its parts.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Don't read food blogs in the morning...

or you might end up eating oatmeal with passionfruit caramel, a drizzle of buttermilk and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Delicious, but next time I'll save this for dessert!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Top Ten

I have tons to blog about but I'm obviously spending (wasting) my time doing other things so I thought I'd do a little round-up of things that have turned my crank this week.

10. By far the cutest croissant-
With a quarter for scale! These delicious apple pastries with cinnamon glaze were made by L'Etoile for the Friends of the Market breakfast last weekend. The breakfasts are mainly staffed by volunteers and use products sold at the market to support the market and you get a tasty breakfast. Sounds like a win/win to me. If you haven't been-GO!

9. Madison is getting its own restaurant week.
Read more here.
I'll hopefully be going to Harvest since I have a gift certificate.

8. Purple Viking potatoes.

I used to deliver produce to Chicago area restaurants. It was mostly organic and many chefs balked at paying what we charged for potatoes. They claimed that they needed to allocate their dollars toward produce that their customers would really notice. How much better could an organic potato taste, really? I delivered brown paper bags full of sample potatoes from Butter Mountain that shone like jewels and maybe changed a few minds. Sadly, I don't have a picture of John with his lovely potatoes but here is one from a tasting he did at the Willy St. Coop. (Lisa-be sure to check this link!) He is clearly passionate about his potatoes, as well he should be!
Tonight for dinner we had my favorites, Purple Vikings.
They are streaked with purple and pink on the outside, creamy white on the inside and taste like a potato dreams it should. You may not be able to find these particular potatoes but there is a larger point here. I've been reading a lot of articles lately about when buying organic or local is important and when it isn't. I submit that organic food sometimes tastes unexpectedly better. I buy local not beacause I'm hoping to save the planet but because these people are my friends. Get to know a farmer today- you won't regret it!

7. Key Lime marmelade-
I have have been in a marmelade making frenzy and have been pretty happy with the results so far. This one tasted a tiny bit bitter to me so I let some friends sample it. Yup, too bitter. I could have viewed this as a negative (Crap! I'm going to have to eat all 20 jars myself!) but instead I viewed it as a call to action. I had recently noticed that one of June Taylor's Marmelade classes had openings but I was waffling about whether I could justify the expense of flying out to California just to take a preserving class. This convinced me that I NEEDED to take the class. So SF readers, I'll be in your town Feb. 23rd throught the 26th- do you want to go to the Ferry Plaza Market with me?

6. Saveur 100-
I will probably (hopefully) write a complete post on this soon, but for now just let me mention my that I love the January issue of Saveur because it caontains their top 100 food inspirations of the past year. Some would even argue this is where I stole the idea from for this post. (Note to Saveur- online access to the list would be mighty nice. Thanks!)

5. Cocktails-
Thanks to Kevin (my boss), the Saveur 100 (#30- Classic Cocktails), and even perhaps the latest 007 flick, I have broken out the cocktail shaker and have been enjoying an occasional tipple. Here's Sam trying our new fav the Kir Noir.
I was surprised by the lack of Google hits for Kir Noir. It's supposed to be a Kir made with red wine and cassis. I used wine, cassis syrup from Ikea and Absolut Kurrant vodka. A twist of lemon is awfully nice. When you first taste this it's kind of like homemade sangria but the it gets more complex the longer it sits.

4. Food Podcasts-
This one also links to the Saveur 100 because my 2 favorite podcasts related to food were mentioned ( #64 Eat feed, #81 Good Food- KCRW). There is a strange feeling of six degrees of seperation here too. I have been asked to Fuel Eat Feed and that is my main reason for trying to get the website running.

3. Bucatini all'Amatriciana-
Awhile back I bought a smoked pork jowl from the farmers' market and declared I would make this dish. I finally got around to it and I wasn't sorry. Sam declared it "pretty much the best thing ever" when I asked him if he was sick of it after eating it for 2 meals a day several days in a row. He even used the sauce for a gourmet meat lovers pizza which had smoked jowl, sopressata, and pepperoni. Sam doesn't even really like noodles (I KNOW!!!!) but bucatini has become a new favorite. They are essentially hollow spaghetti and they have a special alluring chewiness from their lack of middle (does this make any sense?).

2. Citrus alert!
Okay, this doesn't turn my crank at all. I ran out and bought a bunch of citrus in anticipation of prices going up. I feel bad for my California farming friends. They had such a hard Spring and now this. Do we need to get used to this freaky weather? I just got used to the idea that I could buy Meyer lemons in the store and now they all froze to death while it's 70 degrees in NYC. What's next? Who knows but it's certainly encouraging me to live in the moment.

1. Beef Stew for a cold day-

We finally have snow on the ground here, and the lakes are threatening to freeze so I thought it was time for winter classic- Beef Stew. The recipe was swiped from The Meat Club Cookbook [Girl's only] by Vanessa Dina, Kristina Fuller, and Gemma DePalma. I picked it beacause it called for Guinness (Mmmm....) and juniper berries and allspice; two unappreciated spices that inhabit my spice cabinet. I fully intended to reprint the recipe but I am beyond tired ( and drinking my third cocktail) so here is the abbreviated version. Find a beef stew recipe. replace the liquid with beer (I actually ended up using Furthermore Three Feet Deep) Add 1 tsp. ground allspice and 1 tsp. ground juniper berry. When I tasted this while cooking, I thought the spices were too dominant. By the end though, it achieved savory cohesiveness that was a pleasure to eat on a cold January day with a bottle of Valpolicella Ripassa.

Bonus. I have a logo!
Thanks for everything Sam.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Byproducts- Part I

I am happy that I have chosen an industry (preserving) in which the bypropucts can be as useful and tasty as the preserves themselves. Although it is possible that head cheese would taste better if I made it myself I'm surely never going to find out.

Recently I made grafefruit jelly that called for using the zest of only one of the grapefruits. I couldn't bare to throw all that beautiful peel away so instead, I candied it.
Now I know you've read a million times that you don't want to eat the bitter white pith that lies just below citrus peels but when you are candying the peel, you are going to use the white part. That's how you end up with thick, succulent candied peel. The way to get around the bitterness is to boil the peels in fresh water for 5 minutes three seperate times. You end up with flaccid, mellowed out peels that are then ready for a final dip in sugar syrup before laying out to dry. You don't really need a recipe, just know that the sugar syrup should be a ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. It shoulld cover the peels in the pan and you should slowly boil the peels until they are translucent (about 30 minutes if memory serves). These keep indefinitely and can be used in all manner of baked goods (candied orange peel and craisin scones anyone?) And if you were wondering, once candied, you can't really taste the difference between candied orange and candied grafefruit.

I used my peel to make stollen. Last year was the first time I'd ever had stollen and I quickly fell for this not to sweet bread full of nuts, candied fruit nuggets and a marzipan surprise. "I come from German heritage!" I thought. Where has this bread been my whole life? I vowed to make it this year for Christmas. That didn't happen but I did have the candied peel waiting patiently for me so here I am in January, baking stollen.
I found one recipe for it on Epicurious and as with other traditional recipes, the comments were full of tips and edicts about how to make real, traditional, authentic stollen. I am as big a fan of authenticity as the next girl but in my kitchen, I am American and I do what I want! Besides, what are the chances that I'd create an authentic version of a bread that I had only ever tried once and not in it's native surroundings? So I give you:

Rainbow Bread- aka Stollen My Way (based on a recipe from Epicurious)

I call this Rainbow Bread because I chose red cranberries, orange candied peel, yellow candied citron, green pistachios and purple dried Black currants. Feel free to use your own favored mix of dried fruits.

Note: This bread takes almost 7 hours from start to finish. With dumb luck I managed to work this around making preserves all day and going to a movie but you might want to plan better than I did!

1 1/3 c plus 1 1/2 tsp. lukewarm milk
1 1/2 tsp. lukewarm water
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 fresh yeast cake
2 2/3 c. flour

3 1/2 c. plus 3 Tbsp. flour
1 c. golden raisins
1/3 c. candied citron
1/3 c. candied grapefruit peel
1/3 c. mixed dried cherries, cranberries and black currants
2/3 c. pistachios
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c. rum
1 Tbsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tube marzipan

For sponge:
Stir together the 1 1/2 tsp. milk, water and sugar. Add the yeast cake and mix until smooth. Let sit until foamy (note: It will not be as foamy as dry yeast). Add flour and and 1 1/3 c. milk and mix well. Cover and let rise for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

For dough:
Mix the fruit and nuts together in a bowl. Stir in the 3 Tbsp. flour. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, rum, spices, vanilla and salt. Add the sponge and mix well. Stir in the fruits and nuts. Start mixing in the flour 1 c. at a time until a slightly sticky dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Put in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for 2 1/2 hours.

The recipe calls for dividing the dough in half but next time, I would divide it into quarters. The marzipan surprise was sort of lost in such a large loaf (it's the whitish circle toward the top of the photo). So, divide dough in 4 equal parts. Shape each piece into a rectangle. Divide marzipan into 4 parts and roll into a rope the same length as tha bread is wide. Lay the marzipan across and swaddle it with the dough. It will look like this:

Cover and let rise for two hours. (Perfect amount of time to go to a movie Woohoo!)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until brown, about 50 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. I prefer mine with orange passionfruit marmelade. There will be plenty to share and people will appreciate that you are not trying to give them head cheese.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Preserving year round.

People sometimes ask how I got into making preserves and I don't have a very good answer. I can't remember the first time I made homemade preserves. It was probably strawberry freezer jam with mom when I was a kid. My mom didn't really cook. She would sometimes bake, and there was a little bit of canning going on, but for the most part my dad was the cook in my family. I don't have memories of my grandmothers making preserves either. When I started canning on my own, I made that same strawberry freezer jam and the family recipe for bread and butter pickles. For several years, that's all I did.
Then one day, I was out running after a big storm and I noticed that a huge tree branch a neighbor had dragged to the curb was covered in plums. I couldn't believe someone would throw out that bounty! I ran back home and got a bag, picked all the fruit and took it to the neighborhood store to get it weighed. I knew if I was going to make jam, I'd have to know how much fruit I had. A clerk at the store asked where I'd gotten the fruit and upon hearing the story asked if his friend could interview me for a newspaper article about urban gleaning. (If you have never seen the movie The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda, go right now and rent it. It is one of my all time favorites.)
Those plums were a turning point, I think, or maybe just one of several factors that led to a deeper interest in preserves. At the time I was working at a stand at the Saturday Farmer's market and delivering produce for a collective of organic farms to Chicago restaurants. I only worked 3 days a week which left ample time to play in the kitchen and I had access to the best that Wisconsin had to offer. I had a cute little pantry off my kitchen that had built in wooden shelves. The shelves didn't quite reach the ceiling so I began stacking my jars of jewel toned preserves on top. Just looking at them made me happy.

The real turning point was the summer I lived on the farm. I was in charge of making lunch and dinner for the farm crew but I took it upon myself to preserve the farm bounty. I made everything from pickled broccoli (there's a reason you can't buy this at the store!) to triple currant jam to a hundred quarts of canned tomatoes in one day (that's the last time I'll ever do that unless I borrow someone's Italian family). I went a little crazy. Traditionally, the point of preserving was to make enough to get you through the winter until fresh produce became available again. I kind of lost sight of that goal. That was 3 years ago and I bet they still have shelves full of my preserves at the farm because I made more than a neighborhood of families could eat in a year.
I remember one night after dinner, sitting out back enjoying the cool evening air before heading back into the steamy kitchen for another round of jamming, musing that maybe I should make preserves for a living. If I loved it enough to be doing it on my own time after being in the kitchen all day, maybe I could make it a business.
When I left the farm, I already had tentative plans to buy the food cart. I thought I could do both. Ha! I convinced several people to sign up for my fledgling value-added CSA. Instead of produce, they would get canned goods. I scrapped this plan pretty quickly when I realized that I would essentially be canning the same amount as I always had but at the end of the summer, I'd have none left for me. The little bit of money I'd asked for didn't seem worth it. I gave the money back and concentrated on the food cart instead.

But all the while, I've been squirreling preserves away in my basement. I used to bring friends down to show them the beautiful rows of jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys. I was still making them faster than I could eat them.
Around this time I heard about Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber. This book changed my preserving life. I have collected preserving books for years but this was something new and amazing. The old-fashioned books were full of boring combinations and WAY to much sugar. Christine Ferber doesn't use commercial pectin to set her preserves. This allows them to have a softer, more pleasing jell and it allows the true flavor of the fruit to shine. I rarely use pectin anymore. She also has exciting flavor combinations and figured out how to make chocolate preserves. She makes preserves for Pierre Herme for pete's sake!

Around the same time that I found out that I was losing the kitchen space that I used for the food cart, I had a lead on another kitchen that I could use for preserves. It felt awful at the time but now when I look back, I think that the timing was perfect. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, you just can't see it at the time. And that, my friends, is how Pamplemousse Preserves came to be.

I've been having so much fun in the kitchen lately. Usually, by the end of the summer I am burnt out on making preserves and I take the winter off. Not this year. For the first time I have my own commercial kitchen to use so I have been trying many new things. Orange Passionfruit Marmelade, Dolgo Crabapple Jelly, Key Lime Marmelade, Chocolate, Orange Banana Preserves...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bye Bye Chinese take-out!

I made only one real resolution this year. The rest are still in my head because if I wrote them down I'd actually have to follow through and what fun would that be?
This year, Sam and I made a joint resolution to eat out no more than twice a month(this includes take-out). There have been times when we really couldn't afford to eat out but now that we have a little wiggle room, it's all too tempting to take the easy way out when I'm tired and hungry at the end of the day. Since eating out is one of our favorite activities, we are bad influences on each other and as soon as one of us brings up the idea, the other has a coat on and is heading out the door.
I need some easy recipes. I have no problem spending hours in the kitchen, making elaborate dishes from scratch but I'm not very good at the throw-dinner-together-in-20-minutes-or-else- we're-going-out type fare. This recipe for Kung Pao shrimp is my new best friend.

Kung Pao Shrimp

from The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman

1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
2 lbs. peeled raw shrimp
3 Tbsp. oil
5 small dried chiles
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. dark sesame oil
1 scallion, chopped
1/4 c. roasted peanuts, chopped

Mix together the cornstarch and wine. Marinate the shrimp in this mixture while you prepare the other ingredients. Heat oil in a wok. Add the chiles and stir until they begin to blacken. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the shrimp and cook until they are pink. Add the sugar and soy sauce and cook for 5 minutes, until the sauce has cooked down a little and the shrimp are evenly coated. Turn off the heat and stir in the soy sauce. Serve with rice and garnish with scallion and peanuts. We had this with an eggplant-edamame dish but it would be great with simple wilted spinach with sesame oil, tamari and toasted seeds.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In sickness and in health.

I've spent the better part of this new year curled up on the couch, gut churning, moaning quietly. I blame Sam. I rarely get sick but since we've been together, the pattern has been set. He catches something and then a few days later I get a less virulent strain of whatever he had. He was sick with a stomach bug all day Saturday and then we rallied for New Years Eve but when I awoke before dawn on January 1st, I knew my stomach wasn't protesting from too much drink. The good thing is, this year can only improve from here. Still, it'd be hard to top 2006.
Happy New Year y'all!