Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dried Sour Cherry Scones

I am sitting in my empty house for the last time this summer. Sebastian has the last day of science camp, the only camp I have signed him up for, and Julian has his last morning of preschool. After that they are home all summer. I am an interesting combination of relief, terror, excitement and dread. I love my boys and for me being a stay at home mom is the best choice. However it is often not easy being home with two boys who are far more intelligent and energetic then I am. Forget about keeping the house clean, I wasn't good at that before I had two whirlwinds of destruction. It is just not a priority for me. Cooking however is and sometimes my boys, who are best friends, will entertain each other while I cook. Afterwards there is a trail of destruction from their games that I may get around to cleaning...

Last week while they played outside I made a batch of our favorite scones for an afternoon snack. We had them with whipped cream and the last of the strawberry jam from the previous summer. Now that we finally have enough berries for more jam I need to make these again. My British husband loves them, as do Julian and Sebastian. Lewis says they are moist and like a true scone while most scones in the U.S. are dry. The wonderful thing is these are also really easy to make because they don't use any butter, no working the butter in with your fingers, a fork or a pastry blender. Instead of using butter the scones rely on the fat from heavy cream. I usually use dried tart cherries but you can use any dried fruit you want chopped up into smaller pieces. Dried apricots with crystallized ginger would be wonderful. If you want to use fresh berries they should be frozen so you don't end up with a brightly colored pink or purple scone.

After keeping up with the boys all day, making these in the afternoon and the combined destruction in the kitchen and the yard I only had enough energy to make hot dogs for dinner. Not every meal I make is worthy of sharing here.

The original recipe for these scones is the dried fruit cream scones from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book. She uses a mix of dried fruit and raisins, I prefer to leave out the raisins and just add more dried cherries. Her recipe also calls for a glaze of butter and sugar on top that I leave out. For me the scones are a perfect balance of sweet and richness and a sugar toping would just detract. It is also much nicer not to have boys with sugar glaze all over their hands leaving a trail of butter and sugar around the house.

Dried Sour Cherry Cream Scones
adapted form Marion Cunningham's Good Eating

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour (or use all white flour)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dried sour cherries or other favorite dried fruit, chopped if it is larger then a dried cherry
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425° Use an ungreased baking sheet, you don't even need a silpat or parchment paper.

Combine the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl and stir with a fork to mix well. Add the dried fruit and mix with the fork. Use the fork to mix in the heavy cream, stirring until the dough holds together in a rough mass. The dough will be very sticky.

Lightly flour a board and transfer the dough to it. Knead the dough 8 or 9 times. Pat it into a circle about 10 inches wide. Cut the circle into even wedges, I usually cut it into 10. Place about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

I like to serve them with whipped cream and raspberry jam, or butter and jam. The following day everyone was just eating them plain.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Strawberry Freezer Jam

As you can see by the photo we are all out of strawberry jam. The boys and I have tried to go pick berries twice to fix this problem and both times the fields were already picked out. Really it is early here for strawberries. In another week the plants will be overflowing with ripe fruit. However the boys and I love going berry picking and all of us are impatient for more jam, strawberry butter and mounds of strawberries to eat just waiting on the kitchen counter.

So why am I posting this recipe before I can get enough strawberries to make it? Well many of you are already in the height of strawberry season and this is a great way to preserve their taste for the winter. Plus this recipe is on my mind right now, even though I don't have any for us to eat.

This recipe is super easy to make, even for those with a fear of canning and traditional jam making. For other fruits I use traditional preserving methods and no commercial pectin. However I prefer the taste of strawberries when they are uncooked. This delicateness of flavor is why local seasonal strawberries are so different from their grocery store relatives. So when I make strawberry jam I use freezer jam pectin. It also means this is a super easy recipe that you won't mind making after picking a mound of berries. You don't need to hang over a boiling pot of jam and boiling water bath canner to make it. Good thing if I want to have the time, and energy to make at least 4 batches this summer.

The resulting jam tastes like strawberries and summer. If you have only ever had strawberry jam from the store this will be a real surprise. I think store bought strawberry jam just tastes "red." The last time I said that Sebastian asked what I meant. I explained that it doesn't taste like strawberries, just like sugar and artificial strawberry flavor, it is what the color red would taste like. Then the boys and I went with Lewis on a business trip to Boston and at breakfast in the hotel Sebastian finally tasted regular strawberry jam. After taking a bite of his toast he said, "It tastes red, only sweet and red." He did think the bacon and cheddar omelette he had there was, "Spectacular."

The recipe I use is based on a traditional no pectin strawberry jam I came up with several years ago. In that jam I added the chopped peel of half an orange to ensure the jam would set, as strawberries are low in natural pectin. The jam reliably set well and the orange was a wonderful counterpart to the berries. I didn't keep the peel in this recipe as it would not taste good uncooked, but there is Cointreau for the orange taste and Drambuie for complexity, both liqueurs can be left out if you prefer.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

5 Tbsp Ball Freezer Jam Pectin
1 1/2 cups sugar
enough fresh, ripe, local strawberries to yield 4 cups crushed, 2 quarts should be enough. (I crush mine in a large measuring cup with a potato masher, slicing any really large berries first)
2 tsp Cointreau (optional)*
2 Tbsp Drambuie (optional)*
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice
5 - 6 1/2 pint jars, it is fine to use regular glass canning jars. Ball does make freezer jars, however they still break if they fall when frozen. Perhaps I should stop over stuffing the freezer.

Combine pectin and sugar in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Combine crushed fruit with liqueurs if using and either lemon or orange juice. Add fruit mixture to the sugar and pectin and stir for 3 minutes. Ladle jam into half pint canning jars or freezer jars leaving 3/4 of an inch of headspace to allow for expansion during freezing. Allow jars to stand at room temperature until thickened, approximately 30 minutes.

I don't like this jam until 24 hours after making it as it takes that long for the sugar to dissolve properly. My boys love it right away as the undissolved sugar makes it much sweeter. The Ball package says freezer jam will keep for 1 year in the freezer and up to 3 weeks in the fridge, I often keep it for longer in the fridge without any problems, there is enough sugar to act as a preservative. I don't know if it will last a year in the freezer, I never seem to make enough for that to be a concern.

*If you are worried about adding uncooked alcohol to the jam bear in mind that when you make a dish such as a stew with alcohol most of the alcohol is not cooked out. The alcohol content in this jam is actually very small, or you can just leave it out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lamb Stew with Mint and Rhubarb

I have to confess that the first time I made this dish I was very doubtful. Normally when I decide to make a new dish I can imagine how the flavors would be together in my head, if they would work well together, play off each other etc. Somehow I could not do that for this dish, I think I tried it as a form of rubber necking. I needed to make it so I could see what it tasted like, if it would work.

I realize now that the reason I could not imagine the taste is I had only ever tried rhubarb either sweetened or raw from the garden. When you sweeten rhubarb you mask some of its flavor, which I think for many people is the intent. Conversely rhubarb eaten uncooked from the garden has an astringent quality to me. Raw it is not only the tartness that you can taste, for me it is almost bitter. This is not true for everyone, I have a friend who loves to eat it straight from her yard, or with a little salt.

Well I discovered that when you cook rhubarb it mellows it a little, making it a little sour but in a complex way, very much like some of my favorite middle eastern braises that use lemon and artichokes. In this recipe the lamb is braised until tender and then the rhubarb is added at the end and cooked just long enough to become tender and mellow its bite. The rhubarb in the finished dish is silky, a little sour but balanced by the other flavors. The overall stew is rich and wonderful. Now that I have discovered this dish I want to find other truly savory uses for rhubarb, ones with no added sugar. I am trying to figure out other preparations that would have the strength to stand up to the full flavor of the unsweetened rhubarb. While I struggle with that I may just make this one again.

Lamb Stew with Mint and Rhubarb

3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 shallots chopped
1 scallion white and all but darkest green portions chopped (or sub another type of onion for the shallot and scallion)
1 clove garlic minced (cut in half first and remove sprout if there is any)
1 1/2 lbs leg of lamb trimmed of all fat and cut in to 1 inch cubes
1 tsp ground coriander seed
3/4 tsp Vermont Baharat (optional, but if you decide to make some it is great on grilled meats as well)
3 cups water
1/4 cup fresh mint chopped
1/4 cup cilantro chopped (or use flat leaf parsley)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
approximately 2-5 cups rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch segments, sliced lengthwise if over 3/4 inches wide (the original recipe calls for 2-3 stalks, I used 3 huge stalks and really liked the results)

Heat the oil in a wide pot, I used a 5 qt Le Creuset, cook stirring often until translucent. Push the onions to the side of the pot and add some of the lamb pieces and brown them. As the pieces brown remove them to a bowl and add more pieces to brown.

When all the lamb is brown return the other pieces and collected juices back to the pot and add the coriander, baharat and water. Cover the pot loosely and simmer until the lamb is tender, about an hour. Check occasionally to make sure the stew does not dry out and add more water as needed.

When the lamb is tender season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then stir in the mint and cilantro. Set the pieces of rhubarb on top of the stew and cover tightly and cook over low heat for a few minutes until the rhubarb is tender. (It is actually also good if you get impatient and turn the heat up and some of it melts into the sauce. I have tried it both ways. Not that I am advocating impatience when cooking, but it happens, especially with hungry children pestering the cook)

Serve with the whole rhubarb pieces on top of the stew with rice.