Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Dear Santa Christmas
eve 2009. hope you
like the treats we left for
you. I wood like a big lego
set. p.s. Julian wood
like this years Hess. thank
you. Sinde Julian and Seba-

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce: Last Minute Gifts

A week or two ago Julian's preschool began to post signs stating the last day of preschool before the Holiday recess would be December 18th. I noticed the signs and somehow conveniently forgot that meant I needed gifts for all five of his teachers almost a week before I was planning. Actually I am not sure I really forgot, it is more like I was a cross between repressed panic and full on procrastination. In previous years I have given preserves that I canned over the summer but this year I don't have enough, (unless I want to give everyone crushed tomatoes). Somehow baking bread for all five of them seemed daunting. Our budget does not allow to buy them all something they would actually enjoy, so I conveniently ignored the problem until it was almost too late.

Then I found a recipe for caramel chocolate sauce that stated it would make old boot leather taste divine. Some people are drawn to recipes by photos of the finished product, personally I want to be seduced by words. Tell me why I want to put everything down and run to my stove and start cooking. Those words were enough to send me, and Julian once I clued him in to my plans, to run to the kitchen. Over Thanksgiving Sebastian was telling his Graunty Eva (my aunt) about the knife skills I am teaching him. When she asked Julian what he is learning to do in the kitchen he said, "I am learning to stay away from hot pans." For this recipe he also poured sugar and water, before staying away from hot pans.

It really is a very easy recipe, one that is very hard to mess up. Unless of course your 4 year old assistant starts trying to pour himself a glass of milk from a very full gallon jug as the caramel starts to turn. Consequently the first batch is good but has an almost, but not quite, burnt sugar taste to it. A flavor that is often prized in high end kitchens, but not really what I was going for. I have made the sauce again and to avoid the almost burnt sugar taste, just do as it says and remove from the heat as soon as it starts to smoke, instead of pouring milk and missing the moment. The difference with today's batch is now I am searching for old boots, before I just served it on ice cream.

This Photo was taken by Julian

Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce
adapted slightly from The 1997 Joy of Cooking

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into Tablespoon sized slices
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 ounces finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp kosher salt or more to taste

Place sugar in a small heavy saucepan and pour water over the top. Place the pan over medium high heat and gently swirl the pan by the handle until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear. Do not let the syrup boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar is all dissolved turn the heat to high and cover the saucepan for 2 minutes, the syrup will boil. After 2 minutes uncover the saucepan and continue to boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until
it begins to get dark around the edges. Once it starts to darken swirl the pan continuously until the syrup is deep amber and starts to smoke. Immediately remove the pan form the heat and add the butter.

Gently mix the butter in with a heatproof spatula or whisk. Once the butter is fully incorporated stir in the heavy cream. If the sauce becomes lumpy, heat over very low heat while stirring until it is smooth and promptly turning off the heat when it is smooth again. (Mine became lumpy but rather then heating I just kept stirring and it smoothed out).

Add the finely chopped chocolate and stir until it is melted and incorporated. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Serve warm on ice cream, cake, fruit, poached fruit, crepes, waffles, a spoon or old boot leather. If refrigerated it can be re-warmed in a microwave oven or with the storage jar set in a pan of simmering water. Should keep in the refrigerator for 1 month.

To make chocolate caramel truffles reduce the butter to 4 Tablespoons and refrigerate the sauce. When cold spoon out teaspoon sized balls and roll them in cocoa powder.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Menu for Hope 6: Raffle Bid Item

Menu for Hope is an annual charitable event from food bloggers around the world. Participating food bloggers offer food related prizes for the raffle. For each $10 donated anyone can earn a virtual raffle ticket to bid on any of the prizes of their choice. At the end of the two week menu for hope campaign the raffle tickets are drawn and the prize winners announced on Chez Pim.

This is my first year participating as a contributor to menu for hope (what a coincidence, this is the first year I have a blog during the holiday season as well). Pictured above is my raffle bid item for Menu for Hope 6 which can be bid on as item UE23

Bid Item UE23: The Vermont Foodie Gift Basket and Essential Canning Tools

8 oz Jar of my homemade Tomato Orange Marmalade. This is my 7 year old son, Sebastian's favorite topping for everything from toast to bagels. I love it as well but for me it is not a food group. It is also wonderful as an accompaniment to a wine and cheese course.

8 oz's of any of the wonderful and often award winning Vermont cheeses available to me in Burlington Vermont (I am guessing this is all of them).

Essential Canning Tools: Jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, canning funnel and a superior canning rack. The canning rack that comes with most water bath canners is just a reason to curse, they allow the jars to fall sideways and on top of each other. This one keeps all the jars straight, just where you place them. It will fit inside any stock pot with a diameter of 12.5 inches or greater.

In addition the winning bidder can e-mail me with any water bath canning questions or concerns. A note on shipping, while I have placed no shipping restrictions on this package the winner should let me know of any restrictions on food or wine. In addition the winner is responsible for any customs duty.

A complete list of this years bid items can be found here. So make sure to bid on item UE23 as well as many other delectable offerings on the First Givings Page.

To Donate to Menu for Hope and Enter the Raffle:
1. Choose a bid item or bid items from the Menu for Hope Bid Item List
2. Go to the donation page at Firstgiving and make a donation.
3. Specify which bid item or items you would like in the "Personal Message" section on the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write how many tickets per item, please remember to use the donation code (mine is UE23)

Each $10 donation you make will entitle you to one bid item of your choice. For example a $50 donation could be 5 tickets for UE23 (5xUE23) or it could be 3 tickets for UE23 and 2 for EU01 (3xUE23, 2xEU01)

4. If your company matches your charitable donations, please check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.

5. Please make sure to check the box that allows us to see your e-mail address so we can contact you if you win. We will not share your e-mail address with anyone else.

Check Chez Pim on Monday January 18th for the results of the raffle.

Thank you!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cabbage with Almonds, Capers and Raisins

It is officially winter out with temperatures below freezing and even in the teens at night. On Wednesday I walked to school with 2 boys who insist on wearing there sledding goggles every day along with face covering hats. They and their friends happily threw snow at each other, rolled in it, kicked it, and occasionally walked forward. When I collected Sebastian off the bus he and Julian and 2 other neighborhood children broke out into a spontaneous gleeful snow ball fight. One little girl chose to stand next to me and eat fists full of fresh snow while her sister and the other children ran around flinging snow at each other. I stood there on the street happily watching them, thankful that I had put on my snow pants so they could play and I would not freeze into a pillar of ice. Lia, the snow eater, ended up shivering and cold.

A return to winter also means a return to my CSA having storage vegetables instead of a bounty of freshly grown produce. If you are new to visiting my blog, then you have not yet heard of the cabbage that is part of my biweekly winter vegetable share and its test to my creativity. Cabbage is one of the many vegetables that people largely left behind when refrigeration and global food production took hold. It still has a place on peoples plates but mostly as coleslaw and sauerkraut, as well as an appearance on St Patty's Day.

Personally I don't really like coleslaw and especially not when the outside temperature is below freezing. So the trick is to come up with uses for the 8 cabbages I receive over the winter that are inventive and delicious. Every winter I get better, figuring out another trick that makes me look forward to cooking with and eating my cabbage share. Yesterday I added a recipe that moves cabbage more firmly into the category of vegetables I love.

It began when I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins. Part of being successful with my CSA is not to run out and buy every vegetable I see a tempting recipe for, but instead cook with what I have. Therefore I could either wait until March, and the end of the winter CSA, or find a substitution from what I have. As I read and reread the recipe, lusting after the flavors, I began to imagine it with cabbage instead of cauliflower, as they have a similar flavor profile.

When I went to make it I decided to also use some kohlrabi, not because I thought the dish needed it, but because the cabbage I had was so small. I also had to modify the cooking technique as the one time I tried to roast cabbage I found it brought out some of the more off putting flavors of cabbage rather then caramelizing and sweetening it. I also used more topping, just because it sounded so good. The original recipe calls for fresh parsley, tarragon and chives. I substituted fresh cilantro as I will have less trouble using the leftovers and I knew the flavor would work well with the other ingredients.

The end result was an epiphany of what cabbage can be. The cabbage was browned and caramelized in spots with a flavor very similar to cauliflower, only subtler. Then there was the counterpoint to the cabbage and balance from the other flavors, sweetness from the raisins, a mild acidity from the vinegar, sharpness from the capers, earthiness from the almonds and the crunch and richness from the bread crumbs. The cabbage also had a very fresh taste in this dish, which is really wonderful for a vegetable that was harvested at least 2 months ago.

Cabbage with Almonds, Capers and Raisins
1 small cabbage, cut into fourths, cored and then sliced finely yielding approximately 4 cups
1 largeish kohlrabi peeled and then sliced into long matchsticks (optional, although add more cabbage if not using) yielding about 2 cups
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (divided use)
8 Tbsp fresh soft bread crumbs (to make them just take some bread and whiz it in a food processor, any extra can be frozen for future use. Contrary to popular food wisdom I often make bread crumbs from the heel of the bread, the brownness just adds to the flavor)
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
6 Tbsp whole roasted unsalted almonds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 Tbsp golden raisins (feel free to sub dried sour cherries or cranberries if you don't like raisins, or even apricots)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (I used my favorite sherry vinegar but I think the white wine vinegar would have been just as good and less expensive)
2 Tbsp capers (salt preserved capers are preferable, if using soak in warm water for 30 minutes and then drain. Brine preserved ones only need to be rinsed and drained)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a large skillet over low heat and add 2 Tbsp butter (my skillet is 13 inches in diameter). When the butter is melted add bread crumbs and cook while stirring until toasted and fragrant, approximately 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out or clean and dry skillet.

Place skillet over medium heat and add 2 tsp olive oil. Add almonds and sauté until lightly toasted and fragrant (although this may be a little hard to judge as the almonds are brown to start with. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes). Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, using a light touch. Transfer almonds to a plate or cutting board and when cooled chop each one into 3 or so pieces (the original recipe that Deb from Smitten Kitchen was following specified cutting them into thirds which she found laughable until she tried it. Turns out when you chop almonds thirds is the most reasonable way).

Wipe out or clean and dry skillet and add remaining 1 Tbsp oil, heat the oil over high heat and add the cabbage and kohlrabi if using. Cook the vegetables over high heat, stirring occasionally until browned in spots and tender. (At this point my guess is this took 15 or so minutes, next time I promise to pay attention). While cooking the cabbage and kohlrabi melt remaining 1 Tbsp butter over low heat in a small saucepan, when melted add the raisins (or other dried fruit) vinegar and 2 Tbsp water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, drain and set aside.

In a small bowl combine almonds, capers, raisins and cilantro. Season well with pepper and set aside (as my capers where salt preserved I did not add any salt, if yours are brine preserved add salt to taste). Toss so everything is well mixed.

Place cabbage and Kohlrabi on a serving platter or casserole dish and spoon almond, caper herb blend over the top and then sprinkle with the bread crumbs before serving.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vote in Bon Appétit's Blog Envy Contest

I know I said vote, but really I meant, please vote for my Gingerbread Cupcake with Chocolate Ganache and Peanut Butter frosting recipe in the blog envy contest. Voting does require you to register, and to make your vote count you have to vote in all categories. However voting enters you in a contest to win an "epicurean adventure" in the U.S. city of your choice or a kitchen technology center.

The Bon Appétit test kitchen will make the winning recipe in each category and choose a winner from those. The overall winner will receive a trip for two to New York City and dinner with the editor in chief of Bon Appétit as well as the restaurant editor of Bon Appétit. I will not even attempt to explain how much this would mean to me. instead I will just say I will appreciate each and every vote I receive and leave it at that.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Kale Chips, Not Just a Bad Joke

Yesterday I was picking up my winter share when I overheard a couple questioning if it was "realistic" for them to take the 2 pounds of kale. If I was the shy quiet type I would have quietly bagged up my share while I ruminated on people with the will power to leave some of the vegetables offered purely because they know they will never eat it. Instead I told them how to make kale chips. After I was done talking they reached for a bag and began weighing out their kale, maybe it was the fact my children love kale chips that sold them. When they were having the same conversation about the Brussels sprouts I suggested that they roast them . As they added those to their bags they both commented that I should have a blog.

My kids don't just eat kale chips, they cheer when I make them. It is one of my very favorite forms of kitchen brainwashing. Yesterday as I was making dinner the kale chips were done first and they began making trips into the kitchen to steal some. At one point Lewis told them no more kale chips until dinner, at which point I wrestled him to the ground to silence his lunatic ravings. Actually I believe the laser beam that shot out of my forehead was enough of a deterrent.

I brought these to a potluck "tea party" at Julian's preschool and anybody who tried them liked them. It can be a challenge to get adults to try new foods as well as preschoolers. I got a real kick out of the adults who would politely and very cautiously take one chip when I offered them. As soon as they tasted them they would ask if they could have more. One of Julian's classmates took a huge plateful and systematically ate the crispiest ones first.

I'm not sure where I first heard about kale chips. I know I saw it on my friend Cheryl's blog but I also heard about it from several friends, there where mentions of them on facebook as well. The first time I made them Sebastian looked at what I was making and said, "Are you making kale chips? I love kale chips." He loves kale chips and I love other people introducing my children to healthy foods. Thank you Alice!

I have taken a little while to post about them because I have been monkeying with the technique and the dressing. In the beginning I was just putting olive oil on them and a sprinkling of kosher salt. They were good, but often times they were either over or under salted. Then there was the issue of temperature and timing. over the last several months there have been many over browned kale chips from my kitchen. I solved the salting issue by adding soy sauce to the dressing and we also like them better with vinegar. The temperature and timing is what works best in my oven. Use this recipe as a guideline as your oven temperatures may be calibrated differently.

Kale Chips

1/2 lb kale (you can use any variety, most often I have used curly kale but lacinato or dinosaur kale also works well)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar (sherry is my favorite one in this recipe, any vinegar will work, play around until you find your favorite)

Preheat the oven to 275° with convection or 325° without convection. Remove the kale from the stems and tear into chip sized pieces. Wash and spin the kale dry and dump out onto a half sheet pan. Whisk the olive oil, soy sauce and vinegar together until emulsified (thats a fancy word for combining together liquids that normally don't). Pour the dressing on the kale and rub it onto all the pieces so they are well coated.

Divide the kale between two half sheet pans and spread out well on each sheet. Place in the oven and cook for 12 - 15 minutes. If your oven does not have convection take the kale out half way through and stir it around to ensure even cooking. The kale is done when it is really crispy. Pour into a bowl and serve, or leave the bowl in the kitchen at child height while you prepare dinner and allow shameless pilfering.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Menu for Hope 6 Call for Participation

Menu for Hope is a annual charitable event that was created by Pim from Chez Pim. Food Bloggers from around the world donate prizes for the Menu for Hope Raffle. For every $10 donated anyone can be included in the prize drawing for 1 prize of their choosing. At the end of the 2 weeks the virtual raffle winners are drawn and the winners announced on Chez Pim. this year all the proceeds from Menu for Hope will go to a new program from the World Food Bank called Purchase for Progress. Purchase for Progress buys food to feed hungry people directly from local farmers in the same country. This will provide more economic stability to the country by supporting the farmers and their employees while feeding their hungry. To me it feels like a step beyond teaching a man to fish, providing stability to local farmers can help a whole community to fish. More information on Purchase for Progress can be found here

For any other food bloggers out there I urge you to take part in Menu for Hope 6. It is a great way to help those in need while getting new traffic for your blog. For me it feels right to help those in need of food while I have the time to photograph and savor what we have. As someone who often cannot afford all that I would like to feed my family it is nice to remember how much we do have and share with others in greater need. If you are interested in participating all the information you need can be found at Chez Pim and her Call for Participation.

I am trying to construct a raffle prize that at least 20 people will bid on. Some times it feels like am talking to myself here, although the statistics say otherwise, so I am a little leery of assuming my loyal readers will bid. The package I am planning on will have some Vermont treasures as well as tools that I feel are essential in my kitchen. If there is something that would drive you to bid, please let me know. Check back here on December 14th for my prize announcement as well as Chez Pim for the entire list. You can search by prize type or find a prize in your area by searching by region. I can assure you from previous years there will be some amazing prizes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Thanksgiving Tradition

My families Thanksgiving is not a quiet, laid back affair,not even before I had children. I have often thought it would be fun to track the routes of the different conversations around the table. The political debates would pass the literary conversations on their way to someone about to tell a loud joke, often about someone at the table. The funny thing about the loud political debates is we all really agree, we just like to declare that loudly as if we have another person to convince.

We are quite the international bunch. My aunt fled her home in Nazi germany as a young child, I imported my husband from England, my cousin-in-law is from Israel and my sister-in-law is from India. This year however for the first time since Lewis and I began dating we are all sitting down to the table as American citizens. That does not mean however that all our traditional Thanksgiving dishes can be found on tables across the country. Like my family our meal contains quirks and idiosyncrasies all our own. The quirks of my family and the whole meal might be part of why it is my favorite holiday. Even before the September 11 Naturalization proceeding, when Lewis was sworn in as a citizen, it has been his favorite as well.

This is the first year I have taken on my families iconic Thanksgiving's ratatouille. I don't know the history of how it became a Thanksgiving tradition for us, however it really blends beautifully with the rest of the meal. As a suitable vegetarian main course it enables us to let our menu remain the same even though my brothers family are mostly vegetarians, except now we use vegetarian stock in the stuffing. Noah, my brother, calls himself, a vegetarian with out rules. For those who have never encountered that phrase before, it means he eats meat whenever he wants. His wife and my nieces are strict vegetarians, horrified at Noah's version of vegetarianism.

Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is more about technique then a prescription you must follow exactly. My aunts version is from a yellowed and ancient clipping from the New York Times, mine is far looser in form, a dish I make in the summer with the vegetables I have on hand. For me the requirements that allow me to call it ratatouille are eggplant, zucchini, garlic and tomatoes, the rest are just options and change with my mood. I prefer to make it with sweet peppers as well but I have been known to do without. The other vegetables I choose to add often have more to do with what I have in my fridge, and how much I was hoping to make. This summer I was trying to cobble together a vegetable for dinner from the bits and bobs in my vegetable drawers. I added chard stems midway through sautéing the onions and I was very happy with the outcome. This time I added finely diced parsnip, its sweetness will help with the lower quality of the peppers this time of year.

The beautiful thing about serving this at Thanksgiving is it tastes better if it is made at least the day before serving, because it gives the flavors a chance to blend and marry. Leftovers are never a problem because they are so versatile. Amongst my favorites is an omelette with sharp cheddar cheese and warm ratatouille. It also makes a fine filling for a pita, sauce for pizza or lasagna, sauce for fish...

When I make it I always cut up the eggplant ahead, place the peices in a colander with a sprinkling of kosher salt and allow to sit. This step makes the eggplant collapse slightly so it does not absorb oil into its air pockets like a sponge. In addition it draws out some of the vegetables moisture and with it the bitterness. Personally I love eggplant whether or not this step is included but Lewis does not, so I salt it. In the summer I often just salt it for the length of time it takes me to prep the other ingredients, however the eggplant I cook with in the summer is less bitter then its winter supermarket equivalent.

Ratatouille (to be used as a guide, no need to slavishly follow)

1 medium - large eggplant peeled in stripes so that some of the peel remains, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion diced (1 cup)
Extra virgin olive oil as needed (I use a lot, olive oil is healthy and really makes this dish)
2 Tbsp garlic minced
3 medium zucchini (courgettes) sliced in half lengthwise and then sliced 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick
2 - 3 small red, yellow or orange peppers, or 1 large
4 cups tomatoes canned in own juice, or 1 large can (or when in season fresh tomatoes peeled and roughly chopped)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsnip
1 medium fresh or dried bay leaf
1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
Kosher salt to taste plus 1 Tbsp for salting the eggplant
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
(other optional ingredients include: carrots, chard stems, herbs de provence, fresh basil, rosemary, fresh fennel)

Place the eggplant in a colander in the sink and sprinkle generously with kosher salt I used 1 Tbsp). Allow to drain for 1 hour or while you prep the other ingredients. When done the eggplant should have brown liquid on it and some should have drained away. (In the summer I almost never give them a whole hour). Rinse the eggplant thoroughly with water to wash off the salt and either pat dry in paper towels or a cloth towel or you can squeeze it out with your hands. Squeezing it will give you a firmer texture.

While the eggplant is being salted add extra virgin olive oil to a preheated saute pan and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, over a low flame until pale brown and caramelized. Add 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil to a medium dutch oven (I believe mine was 5 quarts) and add the tomatoes, cook the tomatoes over medium heat while the onions are cooking. Once the onions are almost cooked add the garlic and saute for a minute before adding to the tomatoes along with the bay leaf and the fresh thyme. Heat the saute pan again and add more olive oil and saute the eggplant until browned. Add the eggplant to the tomatoes along with kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to saute the vegetables in olive oil and then adding them to the tomatoes and other vegetables. If the ratatouille begins to get to dry add some water. Once all the vegetables are sauteed cook the ratatouille for a few minutes and then taste and adjust the seasoning. Either serve right away or refrigerate and reheat before serving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homemade Whey, The Easy Way!!

Homemade whey is an optional but highly reccomnded ingredient in Lacto Fermented Green Tomato Pickles and other lacto fermented foods. When you use whey in fermentation you can lower the amount of salt in the recipe with more consistent results. Whey contains active lactobacilli, the active lactic acid and lactic acid producing bacteria we rely on to preserve and ferment vegetables when pickling. When making lacto fermented pickles without homemade whey the amount of salt has to be increased, the salt prevents the production of bacteria which would may the vegetables to go bad before they had a chance to ferment.

If you look on the web there are step by step instructions for making homemade whey using raw milk. This method requires you allow the milk to sit out at room temperature until it sours or curdles. Once it has curdled you can strain it and the liquid that is separated out is homemade whey. However there is a far simpler method for making homemade whey, one that can be used even if you live in a state where you cannot obtain raw milk. Many cooks have already made whey before, and then just threw the whey out as an unwanted by product.

To make homemade whey take plain whole milk yogurt that contains active yogurt cultures and strain it. The liquid that strains out is the whey and you are left with thick Greek style yogurt or yogurt cheese in the strainer. In the past I have used a basket style coffee filter in a small strainer when straining yogurt, however I was out of filters so I borrowed a bee keepers honey filter from my neighbors. You know you live amongst your tribe when you can ask to borrow a filter to make whey and instead of your sanity being questioned for wishing to make whey you are offered an alternative.

When making homemade whey and greek yogurt it is important to use whole milk yogurt because low fat versions often have stabilizers and thickeners in them, to make up for the missing fat, that could prevent the proper separation. In addition full fat yogurt is tastier and more satisfying, so in the end you will eat less. Somehow this feels less like making whey and more like harvesting it, but no matter how you describe the process it really is simple.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Under the Highchair Virtual Jam Swap '09

For the past month I have been playing Florence Nightingale as the males in my house have been dropping like flies. Lewis had swine flu badly enough that he wasn't vertical for days and out of work for over a week. The boys have had fevers and other symptoms one day been fine for a week and then symptoms again. Because of the swine flu the school district has sent home guidelines that children should not return to school until they have had 24 hours without a fever of 100° or higher. Once their fever is gone my children are back to their usual energy and whining levels. There is little that compares to being stuck at home with pent up children. It is these moments that I question my sanity.

However I have found solace in reading about other bloggers jams, jellies and preserves on Under the Highchairs Virtual Jam Swap for 2009. Surely by next summer all the males here will be healthy and I can make some of these. The chickens and I have been healthy all along, but the males... If you have any canning safety questions after reading the posts (or from somewhere else) feel free to ask them in the comments section here. If you have a question someone else has the same one and may be waiting for someone else to ask.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I have been on a quest for a great homemade challah recipe for several years now. I hate paying $5 for a loaf of bread that I feel I should be able to make at home. It turns out that making challah is more challenging then I originally thought it would be. I have tried every recipe in my cookbooks (with my collection this was quite the endeavor) plus several I found online. Every recipe I tried made a lackluster loaf that only looked like challah.

I often wondered if my habit of using part whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour was the culprit, but never bothered testing any of the recipes with all white flour. I just couldn't bring myself to expend time and energy again on any of the recipes that were boring and dense instead of eggy, rich and light. Besides, part of the benefit of baking your own bread is the ability to use healthier ingredients.

I finally found a challah recipe we all love. It is rich and eggy, soft to the tooth and it makes beautiful french toast, both in taste and appearance. Plus the whole wheat pastry flour I used did not negatively affect the finished product. However this bread is not an easy just leave it to rise for a few hours while you do other things before shaping the loaves recipe. Let's just say this is a very finicky bread. With this recipe I now understand why the Jewish people baked unleavened bread when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt. Who would have time to baby sit bread when fleeing Pharaoh? However even with all the work this bread will be made often in my home.

The original recipe came from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers. I guess the title should have tipped me off to the work that would be involved. The only changes I have made to the recipe are to use half white whole wheat flour, I also added some water to the egg wash so the crust was less like shellac. The first time I made it everyone liked the center, but not the crust. Lastly I adjusted the baking technique to use my convection oven, this way I did not need to rotate the loaf to ensure even browning. When making this it is important to use the highest quality eggs you can, factory egg production produces eggs that will not add much to the bread.

Adapted from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb

3 1/2 (16 oz) cups flour (the original calls for bread flour, I used half King Arthur All Purpose Flour and Half King Arthur White Whole Wheat)
1/4 cup (2 oz.) sugar
1 tsp (.25 oz.) kosher salt (Reinhart does not specify kosher salt, but this is a Jewish bread)
2 tsp (.22 oz.) yeast
2 Tbsp (1 oz.) butter softened or melted and cooled
2 large eggs (3.3 oz.) beaten
2 large egg yolks (1.33 oz) beaten
1/4 cup (2 oz.) milk at room temperature
1/2 cup water at room temperature
cooking spray
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low for 1 minute using the flat beater blade. Beat for 10 more minutes on medium speed. Place dough in a bowl and mist with cooking spray, cover bowl with a lid or plastic wrap or place the bowl in a plastic bag. Leave to rise for 1 hour or until it has visibly swelled.

Remove from the bowl and knead by hand for 5 minutes. If the dough is so sticky it is sticking to your hands dust with flour and continue kneading. Return the kneaded dough to the bowl, mist with cooking spray and cover, allow to rise for another hour or until it visibly swells. After 1 hour divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Mist the balls with cooking spray and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap to rest for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes roll each ball into a long snake that is about 12 to 18 inches long. Keep the pieces you are not working with covered. Braid the 3 pieces together starting in the middle. Pinch the ends to seal and then tuck them under. After braiding the first half turn the bread over and around so the braid will still go the same way. Do not pull the pieces overly tight when braiding as this prevents expansion while rising.

Place the bread on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg and water. Mist with cooking spray and cover with the damp towel or saran wrap before allowing to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. I found the towel stuck to the dough so I put jars around the bread and draped the towel over them so the damp towel did not touch the rising bread.

Preheat the oven to 325° with convection or 375° if your oven does not have convection. Brush the bread with the last of the egg wash and sprinkle on any seeds your family may allow you to serve them (notice my bread does not have seeds). Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tray half way through the baking time if you are not using convection. When done it should be firm not squishy with an internal temperature of 185° (mine was more like 191° both times). Allow to cool on a rack for 45 minutes before slicing or eating.

French Toast
makes 3 slices, can be multiplied

3 slices of bread approximately 1/2 inch thick (Challah or Cracked Wheat Bread are excellent choices)
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
splash of vanilla extract (approximately 1/2 tsp)

Melt butter in a wide skillet and heat until foaming, meanwhile beat egg, milk and vanilla in a wide flat bowl or baking dish. Place bread in the batter, flip over to soak the second side using a fork and then transfer to the pan as the slices absorb batter. Allow the french toast to cook until it is golden brown in spots and then flip over to cook the second side. Once the second side is golden brown serve with butter, real maple syrup and or jam.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Mama, step on the gas"

"Mama, step on the gas on the way there." That was the call from the backseat as I drove Julian, my 4 year old, to the emergency room. He burned himself in one of those kitchen moments I am always waiting for, especially with a kitchen that is not even considered large enough to be small by modern architectural standards. In addition to the size of my kitchen there is the energy and enthusiasm of my children, it is amazing this has never happened before.

As I sat at the registration desk with him I wondered if it would sound like I was lying. How often do people come in with a preschooler who burns them self on a half sheet pan because they are trying to steal a roasted brussels sprout before dinner? Maybe I should have told them he was reaching for a warm cookie.

Julian and I sat together in a mercifully oversized chair in the waiting room reading. My father gave the boys The 20th Century Children's Book Treasury several years ago and somehow I had the presence of mind to grab it as we left the house. I have always loved that gift as it makes it much easier to bring a library of bedtime books when on vacation. In this instance it turned out to be invaluable. Part of Julian's joy while reading it was getting to choose the stories I would read. Just a perfunctory no to the stories he was refusing and a voice filled with joy for the ones he wanted to hear. Perhaps it made the emergency room visit a little too nice as he came home and announced to his father, "I had fun at the emergency room." Now we both have visions of him becoming even more death defying in his actions. Although I have to admit I had fun with him as well.

When we were finally ushered in to a room and seen by a Physician's Assistant I found out it was only a small second degree burn and we did not need to come in. They still bandaged it up before sending us on our way. When we returned home, both starving, I was relieved to see Julian still tearing in to a pile of roasted brussels sprouts. I feared he would hold a grudge against them. Now that it is brussels sprouts season I urge you to revisit this recipe/method, even if you have never liked brussels sprouts in the past. I know of at least 4 people who have been converted by this preparation.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 large bunch fresh brussels sprouts
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 - 45o degrees. Basically if you are making something else in the oven the sprouts can adjust. The other day I was making braised turkey in the oven at 300 degrees, I still tossed in the sprouts early on, no reason to waste the oven space, and when the turkey was done I turned the temperature up to 400 with convection.

Trim the stem pretty close to the leaves and then pull off any leaves that look unappealing. If the leaves are bruised deeply you can also trim off the area in question. For smallish sprouts cut them in half lengthwise, for larger ones cut them in fourths.

Place the brussels sprouts on a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on kosher salt and freshly grated pepper. Afterwards toss them around with your hands making sure that the sprouts are well covered in oil. roast in the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, until the sprouts are nice and caramelized (brown) over much of their surface area and tender but not mushy when pierced with a fork or knife. I am afraid I have no idea how long this takes, especially as I gave a range of temperatures. I just check them when I go to shake the pan.

This time I cooked them for approximately 30 minutes on 400° with convection. I have also cooked them at 400° without convection and it took closer to 45 minutes. Friends recently told me they made them once with diced apples added in the last 5 minutes, I intend to try that variation soon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lacto Fermented Green Tomato Pickles

As a child we used to get green tomato pickles from Williams Chicken near my Grandmothers. They would be floating in a large plastic tub of brine and they were sour and delicious. My brother was mildly addicted to them. Even though I understand his obsession with them, I still do not fully understand the night he created, "Green tomato stuffed hamburgers". Let me just suggest you never attempt to make them and leave it at that. Although I have to admit the vegetable soup with the egg poached in it he made another time was worse, maybe it was the addition of the melted stinky cheese.

Several years ago I consulted the Ball Blue Book and tried to make green tomato pickles. Some folks liked them, but for me it did not match my memory of pickled green tomatoes. This summer when I was making lacto fermented pickles I realized the pickled green tomatoes we all loved where lacto fermented, not vinegar, salt and water. The folks from Flack Family Farm told me to use the same procedure I would use for any vegetable. Then they thanked me for giving them an idea for using their green tomatoes.

The good news is this method of pickling couldn't be easier, no boiling water bath canner, no hot brine. Plus lacto fermented foods are super foods, in modest quantities anyway. They improve vitamin absorption and correct the environment of your digestive system. The down side is after 3-4 days at room temperature they have to be stored in the fridge. The basic procedure comes from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. Although there is no recipe for green tomato pickles in the book. It is better to make the pickles with homemade whey as they are lower in salt and it works more consistently. Whey is really simple to make using full fat yogurt that active yogurt cultures. The only downside to making it with whey is you have to plan ahead, and have yogurt in the house.

Lacto Fermented Green Tomato Pickles
For 1 quart (make as many or as few as you wish to store)

1 wide mouth quart preserving jar
enough green tomatoes to fill the jar to 1 inch below the lid (only use tomatoes that are totally green, the ones that made you crazy at the start of the summer)
1 dill head or 1 fresh dill sprig or 2 Tbsp dried dill or dill seed)
1 hot pepper with the stem pulled off (optional)
1 large or 2 medium or 3 small cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp canning and pickling salt
4 Tbsp homemade whey (or substitute an additional Tbsp of canning and pickling salt)

Wash the tomatoes and remove their stems and place in the clean wide mouth jar to 1 inch below the rim. Add the garlic and hot pepper between the tomatoes and add the salt and whey, if using. Fill the jars with water to 1 inch below the rim and screw on the lids. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days (3 days when kept at 72°) before placing on the top shelf of your fridge. They can be eaten after the 3 - 4 days but are better after a month of storage. It's normal if the brine is fizzy or there is white foam floating on the top. If the pickles go bad the smell will be completely off and you won't want to eat them.

As a full disclosure thing, the green tomatoes in the photo are not fermented yet. When done they will be more of an olive green color. I just wanted to post this while there were still green tomatoes for people to use.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chinese Hamburger with Peas

No matter what culinary feats I may accomplish, how intricate and subtly spiced dishes I may prepare I think my families favorite may be simple Chinese Hamburger with Peas. I am pretty sure this recipe will mark the first time my best friend from high school, Kira, makes anything from my blog. It is still a favorite of hers as well.

For me this is basic comfort food. I have no idea what cookbook it was from because my father, in a move that still enrages me, allowed roommates to throw out my mothers complete set of Le Creuset, including a kitchen workhorse they no longer make, and all my mother's cookbooks. After my mother died my father began to make it, it was our weekly respite from take out food. We used to wing it, when making this for dinner, but I got tired of the sometimes lackluster renditions, so I tested and recorded the best version.

This is truly a pantry staple/emergency dinner as you can cook the hamburger meat from a frozen block without a problem. Just throw the block into the pan and cook over medium high heat, flipping it every few minutes to scrape off the browned and defrosted meat. Not glamourous but really handy for getting dinner on the table without ordering take out.

Tonight when making this Sebastian helped me, browning the meat, reading the recipe, measuring ingredients. Helping to brown the meat for this dish is one of my earliest memories in the kitchen. At dinner Julian talked about when he is in second grade and is old enough to help, "Even getting to brown the meat."

I have made it with veggie ground beef and it is still good, if you were not a meat eater my guess is it would be stellar that way, for me there was something missing.

Chinese Hamburger with Peas

1 lb ground beef (if you are vegetarian this still works with veggie ground beef)
2 small garlic cloves minced, or 1 large one (about 1 - 2 tsps)
1/2 cup dry sherry (you can also use sake or rice wine)
3 Tbsp Oyster Sauce (there are vegetarian/shellfish free versions or use hoisin sauce,)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp mushroom soy sauce (if you don't want to stock your pantry with another soy sauce just use all plain soy sauce)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 lb frozen peas (I prefer to use the ones in a bag, my mom always used the ones in a box)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 - 2 scallions chopped for garnish (optional, really I never use them, but this dish needed something for the photograph)

Brown the ground beef in a large saute pan over medium high heat, breaking the meat up into bite sized pieces. (If the meat is frozen just flip it over every few minutes and scrape off the cooked layer). Once the meat is all broken up and is starting to brown add the garlic (if the meat is very fatty drain off the extra fat before adding the garlic). After all the meat is browned add the sherry, oyster sauce, ginger and both soy sauces. Cook while stirring until well combined. Add the frozen peas and then dissolve the cornstarch in the water and stir to blend well. Add the water cornstarch mixture and cook over high heat until the liquids boil and the sauce thickens a little from the cornstarch and the peas are heated through.

Serve with white or brown rice. As a child the question of where I wanted my rice in relation to the Chinese Hamburger was very important. Eventually I got to the place where I wanted the Chinese hamburger on top of the rice. Sebastian has it on top now and Julian is just beginning to mix some of his portion together at the end of the meal. It is one of those parenting echoes that I enjoy, rather then the ones that prove my parents cursed me to raise a child who is just like I was.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Braised Pork on Om-nom-nomnivore

For my most recent adventures in the kitchen you will need to head over to Om-nom-nomnivore and my post on Pork Loin Braised in Milk. This is part of their week long salute to swine flu.

Now that I have directed you to that post I can go back to sitting shiva for Gourmet magazine. Gourmet has been my go to magazine for many years now and I am deeply saddened to lose it. Without Gourmet I would never have begun my localvore focus that began for me with the article they ran by Bill Mckibben when he ate only locally produced items for 9 months. Time to go drown my sorrows in leftover pork.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Thibeault's Table Gallery Giveaway

My friend Ann of Thibeaults Table is promoting her new gallery of beautiful handcrafted items from local artists with a giveaway. On her gallery Ann is showcasing artisan crafted cutting boards and spoons for purchase. The boards in particular are beautiful one of a kind pieces of art. They would make a fabulous hostess gift. Imagine how delighted your host would be if instead of flowers, that will die, you brought a one of kind cutting board that could be used for generations.

To enter the drawing you just need to leave a comment on Gallery Collection 3, a purchase from the gallery will enter you twice more and blogging about it with a link back to her site will enter you again. Three lucky winners will each win one of the stirrers in the photo above. Good luck, hope you win (and I hope I win the plum one!!)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Canning Crushed Tomatoes

Canning tomatoes is a huge part of the end of the summer season for me and my cooking year round. Canning tomatoes makes me feel smug in the middle of winter as I continue to cook with tomatoes from my garden. Yes you can find canned tomatoes in the supermarkets, however these are better, and local. Part of the appeal is also gazing at the rows of jars lined up in the basement. My last kitchen was huge and I used to leave any canning projects out for several days, just so I could admire them. Now I have to do my gazing in the basement.

My tomatoes did end up with the late blight that has been troubling the North East this summer. However at this point in the season the recommendation is to remove diseased leaves and branches without disposing of the whole plant, so some tomatoes have still been available to harvest. In addition I bought some tomatoes from a local farm. I was just a little worried at not having rows of tomatoes to stare at all winter. After canning tomatoes for home use for the last 2 years I realized that I like the crushed ones the best. They are versatile enough to be used in stews, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and soup and they have already cooked down slightly so they are more convenient. With 28 jars of crushed tomatoes preserved if I have any more tomatoes to can this year, the rest I will do as tomatoes halved or quartered in their own juice.

As with any canning project there are some important steps to follow to eliminate safety concerns. For example you can not add any other vegetable to the tomatoes because that would lower the acidity of the finished product. Foods that are high in acid prevent the growth of botulism, a deadly toxin that is tasteless and odorless. Tomatoes are borderline acidic so to safely can them you need to add acid. You can add vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid to make tomatoes safe to can. I use citric acid as it does not affect the flavor of the tomatoes. You can find citric acid in the canning section of your grocery store, in the bulk food section of many stores (such as City Market here) and in the kosher food section of stores. It is also marked as "sour salt."

Tomatoes are one of the most common home canned items for people to insist on using the methods their families have always used, insisting that there has not been a problem yet so why change. My feeling on this is there was not a problem in the past because there were no botulism spores present when they canned tomatoes in the past.  If you never get in a car accident it is also perfectly safe to not wear a seat belt.

You may notice in the photo of my canning set up that I do not heat my lids in hot water. This step is not needed for safety, as hot water that is not boiling would not sterilize anything. Instead it is supposed to soften the compound on the lid so it will seal. However if you put the jar in a boiling water bath I have found the lids get plenty hot and seal. Somehow that last pot of boiling water on the stove was the one that made canning seem complicated.

Canning Crushed Tomatoes

Tomatoes, 1 pick your own flat should fill about 3-4 quart sized jars. Two flats is one canner load or 7 jars, but you need a very large stock pot to crush the tomatoes in.
Citric acid or bottled lemon juice (fresh juice has inconsistent acidity) or 5% acidity vinegar

1 canning pot or a large stock pot
1 rack to lift the jars of the bottom of the pot (the rack is necesary to prevent the jars from breaking from the heat, you can also use a round cake rack or Macgyver one from jar rings wired together. I have used a dishtowel in the bottom of the pan and vowed never to do that again. A friend of mine reported on a canning endeavor that ended with green water from the dye in the dishtowel.)
jar lifters (you can make do with tongs but it is awkward and not really worth it)
1 canning funnel
canning jars, lids and rings (I usually use quarts for tomatoes)
1 ladle
1 potato masher (or wooden mallet or spoon or equivalent for crushing the tomatoes)
1/2 tsp measure if using citric acid and quart jars
large stockpot, large enough to fit al the tomatoes you wish to can
clean receiving blanket or dish towel to put on the counter so the jars are cushioned from the counter (I found that receiving blankets are the perfect weight and thickness for this)

Start by peeling the tomatoes by blanching them first and then removing their cores while cutting into quarters. Place the peeled, cored quartered tomatoes in a large stockpot until you have a double layer of tomatoes covering the bottom of the pan

Use a potato masher or a wooden mallet or spoon to crush the tomatoes in the pot. Heat the tomatoes that are already crushed, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, while you continue to peel, core and cut the remaining tomatoes. Add tomatoes to the pot as you go, there is no need to crush them as the heat will break them down. Once the tomatoes are all added boil gently for a minimum of five minutes (longer will give you a more reduced tomato product).

While the tomatoes are heating fill your canning pot with water and wash the canning jars, adding them to the pot. The water in the canning pot should be above the top of the jars. Heat the canning pot of water and jars while you wash the lids and rings and lay them out on the receiving blanket or dish towel.

Use the jar lifters to remove the jars from the hot water and empty water from the jars. Fill the jars with hot crushed tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch of headspace (that means fill the jars all the way to 1/2 inch from the top of the jars). If you want add 1 tsp of salt per quart jar (I never do as I want the flexibility to add salt when I am cooking with them later). Acidify the jars by adding citric acid, bottled lemon juice or vinegar to the jars. Quart jars get 1/2 tsp citric acid, or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice or 4 Tbsp 5% acidity vinegar. Pint jars get half that (1/4 tsp citric acid or 1 Tbsp lemon juice or 2 Tbsp vinegar) and 1/2 pint jars half that (1/8 tsp citric acid or 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice or 1 Tbsp vinegar)

Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel before putting on the lid and rings. You also should come up with a method that helps you to keep track of proper acidification of the jars. The method that works for me is filling a whole group of jars with crushed tomatoes, cleaning all the rims and then adding citric acid to all of them before placing on the lids and rings and adding to the canner.

When all the jars are filled and in the canner measure to make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 1/2 inches. Put the cover on the canner and turn to the heat to high. Bring to a boil and start the timer after the water is at a full boil. For altitudes of 0 - 1,000 ft boil jars for 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. If you are at a higher altitude you can refer to this chart for processing times, the chart also shows times for processing in a pressure canner. You can lower the heat so long as the water is always maintained at a complete boil for the entire processing time.

Keep the canner covered until for the full processing time. Once the jars have boiled for the appropriate length of time turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and set a timer for 5 minutes. After the five minutes use a jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner to the receiving blanket or dishtowel, leaving at least 1 inch of space between jars.

leave the jars undisturbed while they cool (resist the urge to press on the lids to see if they sealed). Do not tighten the rings while cooling.

After the jars have completely cooled (12 to 24 hours) remove the rings, wash the lids and jars and test the seal, the center of the lid should be down and the lid should not pry off easily with your fingers. If the lid comes off of any of the jars store those in the fridge and use first or add to the next batch of crushed tomatoes you are heating to can.

Store in a cool, dry place out of direct light after you have admired them for an appropriate length of time. Use all year to make sauce, soup, added to braises etc.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Peeling Tomatoes Tutorial

Tomatoes are one of the foods I cannot imagine living without, a feeling I shared with my mother. My mother died over 27 years ago but when I watch one of my boys enjoy a tomato I recognize her genes coming through. Julian has always loved tomatoes, when he was a toddler I would carry him in a hip carrier when we picked up our farm share and I always gave him a tomato to eat. The seeds all over my shirt always made me laugh and remember my mother. Sebastian is just discovering his love for fresh tomatoes this summer.

During the second world war my mother worked picking tomatoes on a farm. She told me when they found a fully ripe one they were supposed to eat them. Within a week she was the only person who still liked tomatoes. As she was picking she would hear, "Roz, over here," and she would be tossed another ripe tomato to eat. We used to eat them together and daydream that maybe I would get to do that one day...

With all her love of tomatoes the most my mother did with them was to cut them up for salads. Every time she did she always took a taste, ostensibly to make sure the tomato was good enough to serve. So my mother would never have made Tomato Basil Butter, or peeled one. Even so I didn't think to post the steps to peeling tomatoes in last weeks recipe, until a friend asked me how to do it. So here are step by step instructions on peeling tomatoes (the same steps can be used to peel peaches).

Peeling Tomatoes Step By Step

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Wash the tomatoes, remove the stem and cut a shallow X on the bottom of each tomato with a knife (I use a serrated knife)

Drop the scored tomatoes into the pot of boiling water and boil for 30 seconds to loosen the skins

Once the skin has loosened remove the tomateos from the boiling water with a slotted spoon or mesh sieve, if you want you can drop them in cold water before placing on a cutting board. When peeling them for canning I don't bother with the cold water bath, if I want to stop the cooking I do use the water bath. See below how the tomatoes skin has moved back from the X cut into the bottom

Once the tomato has cooled enough to handle you can slip the loosened skin off of the tomato.

Remove and discard the peels.